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Friday, April 04, 2008

the exegetess

Warning - gender post ahead. Will those that do not wish to read gender posts please click yourself away.

How many people, when finding that the laundry service has not supplied enough towels in the hotel room, or refuses to do so, demand to speak to the manageress? Maybe Wayne would do a poll for me.

And yet "manageress" is a word that occurs in the dictionary and on many websites. It is apparently a perfectly good English word. In university my French prof docked a mark when we did not translate directrice d'hôtel into "hotel manageress" in English. We just wrinkled our noses and some students blew smoke rings, which tells you how long ago this was! We told him that a hotel only has a "manager" and that is that. Of course, it may very well be a woman, did he want to make something of it? We didn't think much of his English. We never did hear him speak a word of English.

So, is it really less literal to translate προφῆτις as "prophet" rather than "prophetess"? Or προστατις as "benefactor" rather than "benefactress"? NAB, TNIV, NRSV. Or "patron" rather than "patroness"? ESV. (Or "helper" NASB) Personally I rather like the word "patroness" and it is the word that I would have chosen for this verse. I am not aware of any translation that uses it. (That doesn't mean there isn't one.)

When people make a great big fuss about how a προφῆτις should be a "prophetess", but they don't care whether a προστατις is a "patron" or a "patroness", then one has to wonder why.


the exegetess

PS I think tc has a good sense of humour and will accept that I have only taken up the gauntlet which he flung down. Please read comments to this post.

PPS This post has been edited because I implied motive.


At Fri Apr 04, 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Sam said...

Suzanne, it's nice of you to give the warning: "gender post ahead".

If "prophetess" is not in our everyday vocabulary, it shouldn't be used. So I would agree with TNIV and NRSV's rendering of "prophet", and the same goes for "patroness" and "benefactress". These shouldn't be used even if they do exist in the dictionary.

But to be a devil's advocate...if in a case like "actress", which is in our everyday common usage, perhaps we might not be so far off to suggest that gender-specific words like "prophetess" was commonly used back in the early church? Should we then retain the use of it?

At Sat Apr 05, 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

But then we should also retain patroness. I just can't see why there is such an inconsistent approach to these two words. Why does no one argue for patroness when by all accounts prostatis was a word that had a potentially different meaning for man and woman. Why is prophetess so important but not patroness. Either both or neither, it seems to me. I don't really have much preference either way - but I don't understand the inconsistency.

At Sat Apr 05, 04:24:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

To be consistent, let's not have "patron" or "helper" or "benefactor" or other such nonsensical English words for προστατις. Let's do this right and have "prostatess."

One of my favourite clubs (Birmingham City) had Karren Brady as football manager. But don't forget Brenda Spencer for Wigan Athletic, Lorraine Rogers "chairman" for Tranmere Rovers, or Delia Smith for Norwich City. There's also been refereeesss Wendy Toms. But lest you think all are fine with this, read this and ponder our regress, from such a "high point," in the past half decade. It's not just the gender debate in a man's world, it's our language used in the debate.

Speaking of, what's the gender of the word "gender"? From the old English, the French, the Latin, and (yes before that) from the Greek?

At Sat Apr 05, 07:31:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Sam said...

Yes, like JK Gayle says: "Let's do this right and have "prostatess." I don't care either way too, but let's just be consistent.

At Sat Apr 05, 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kevin, I know we are hearing at the moment about a pregnant "man", but I have never before heard of a female prostate! ;-)

At Sat Apr 05, 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Jane said...

Didn't Ursula Le guin once write "the King was pregnant"?
These days female Actors seem to prefer to be called actors and not actresses.
interesting the negativity that seems to be present once you feminise priest to priestess
In French feminizing words - docteur to docteuresse - makes the female form sound rather silly and cuddly and fluffy
Some of my parishioners would call me la pastourelle as opposed to le pasteur (actually we now have la pasteure) but it's interesting that even I think that shepherd sounds a lot more serious a job than shepherdess
Interesting how our use of all of these terms is shifting as society changes

At Sat Apr 05, 02:08:00 PM, Blogger Katherine said...

I actually use the word actor to refer to men or women. It's probably nice to retain actress to keep the awards ceremony straight, but other than that I think the English language is moving toward dropping the "-ess" suffix for occupational pronouns. Language change happens in fits and starts, so it doesn't surprise me that things are a bit inconsistent, but I prefer using the one term. Adding the "-ess" suffix also seems to have the effect of making it "marked", rather than unmarked, as if the default mode is male and you have to modify it if referring to a female. Then there was the very conservative man who used to make jokes in church services about "preacherettes", which was very insulting but nevertheless got laughs from the crowd.

If I remember right from the time I studied Russian in a language learning practicum, the Russian language is changing in a similar way with its occupational nouns (like teacher, etc.)--using one form for both male and female referents.

Of course, I say all this, but now that I think of it I really like the word priestess, and would want to keep it around...

At Sat Apr 05, 04:20:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Sam said...

If it’s okay to have “actress” then why not “priestess”? If we were to get rid of all our gender prefixes, I bet that in all these shifting terms in our society, we will probably change back to adding suffixes for male and females endless cycle of changes in our cultures and languages. Maybe we should just have preacherettes, manageress and all but let's be consistent about it...not.

Hey, nice one Peter. ;)

At Sat Apr 05, 05:16:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Jane and Katherine, Welcome!

I am thrilled to have more friends here.


My question is about why some want women labeled as "prophetess" but they don't mind a woman being a patron. What is the motive behind labeling women as different. Must we label Deborah as a judgess, and Junia as an apostelette? What would be the reason for this?

Shall we call Mary only a witnessess, because she was female and could not be a true witness of the resurrection?

Since tc opened this question, I would like to hear from him why prophetess is better than prophet.

At Sat Apr 05, 10:47:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Maybe Wayne would do a poll for me.

I supposed I could, but if I do, this time, I'd want more input ahead of time to keep the poll from being buggy as so many of mine have been.

As for whether a woman prophet should or not not be called a prophetess, my own sense is that in the English of today, we normally do not use feminine suffixes on nouns. This has to do with the fact that if a woman does the same job as a man there is no logical need to differentiate the label for her work with a gendered suffix. Etymology doesn't matter at this point. What matters is what people are using. And in many cases, it's not a matter of ideology.

The lady postmaster of our little town in Montana strongly did not want to be called a postmistress. I'm sure that the pejorative sound of "mistress" had something to do with it. But even more, she said that she was a postmaster. Postmaster is the job she applied for and got. In this case, "master" has lost its male meaning component. She said she is a female postmaster. Biological differences are fairly obvious (well, not always but much of the time), but in many situations biological differences are totally irrelevant to job performance.

There is no need any longer for the lady service attendants on plane flights to be called stewardesses.

Many refer to male and female actors as actors, not making a separate semantic category of actress.

When a society no longer needs a semantic or grammatical category, it typically drops it. This does not mean that biological differences between women and men are considered irrelevant. But they are irrelevant for most roles for which men and women can do the same kind of work.

At Sat Apr 05, 11:13:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

No Wayne you don't need to do a poll. I was just joking.

At school, when I took over from the previous webmaster there was some discussion as to whether I could be called a "webmaster" or if I would have to become the union-certified "web manager". I briefly considered becoming a "webmistress", but that just seemed too undignified. ;-)

At the moment I am still the webmaster.


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