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Androcentrism (ancient Greek, ἀνήρ, "man, male") is the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing male human beings or a masculine point of view at the centre of one's world view, culture, and history. The related adjective is androcentric, while the practice of placing the feminine point of view at the centre is gynocentrism.
Origin of the term
The term androcentrism has been introduced as an analytic concept by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the scientific debate. Perkins Gilman described androcentric practices in society and the resulting problems in her investigation on The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture, published in 1911. Thus androcentrism can be understood as a societal fixation on masculinity whereby all things originate. Under androcentrism, masculinity is normative and all things outside of masculinity are defined as other. According to Perkins Gilman, masculine patterns of life and masculine mindsets claimed universality while female ones were considered as deviance.
In the past boys and men were expected to have better formal education than girls and women. Girls and women were less frequently able to read and write than boys and men were; thus, written material tended to reflect the male point of view. Well into the second half of the 20th century young men entered university far more frequently than young women. Some universities consciously practiced a numerus clausus and restricted the number of female undergraduates they accepted. Therefore, "educated opinion" risked being androcentric. Today women in industrialized countries have far better access to education than men.
In the majority of societies today, books, magazine articles and book reviews are written predominantly by men and therefore may privilege a male viewpoint. For instance, in 2010 only 37% of the books published by Random House were written by women, and only 17% of the books reviewed by The New York Review of Books were written by women. Research conducted by VIDA in 2010 found that men wrote the vast majority of articles and book reviews in leading magazines in the United States and the UK.
Research by Dr. David Anderson and Dr. Mykol Hamilton has documented the under-representation of female characters in 200 top-selling children's books from 2001 and a seven-year sample of Caldecott award-winning books. There were nearly twice as many male main characters as female main characters, and male characters appeared in illustrations 53 percent more than female characters. Most of the plot-lines centered on the male characters and their experiences of life.
TV and film
The vast majority of films are written and directed by men. This may result in an androcentric bias, with most films (and film characters) being created from a male perspective. Of the top 250 grossing films in 2007, 82% had no female writers and only 6% had a female director. 70% of all film reviews published in the USA are written by men. Therefore, not only do men have more influence than women over the storyline and characters of most films but also they have the most influence when it comes to publicly reviewing them. Because most film reviewers are male, androcentric films (films from a masculine viewpoint) may tend to receive more glowing reviews than female-centric films.
A 2009 study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute analyzed 122 children's films (released between 2006 and 2009) and found both a male bias 'behind the scenes' of the films as well as a male bias in the content of the films. Of this sample, 93% of directors, 87% of writers, and 80% of producers were male. Therefore, an androcentric (male) perspective was dominant in most of the films. The report argued that the male dominance behind most of the films was connected to a male bias (an androcentric bias) in the content of the films themselves. For instance, the majority (70.8%) of the speaking characters in these films were also male, and female characters were much more likely than male characters to be portrayed as beautiful. The report argued that "cinematic females are valued more than cinematic males for their looks, youthfulness, and sexy demeanor".
In 1985 a group of female artists from New York, the Guerrilla Girls, began to protest the under-representation of female artists. According to them, male artists and the male viewpoint continued to dominate the visual art world. In a 1989 poster (displayed on NYC buses) titled "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" They reported that less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections of the Met. Museum were women, but 85% of the nudes were female.
Over 20 years later, women were still under-represented in the art world. In 2007, Jerry Saltz (journalist from the New York Times) criticized the Museum of Modern Art for undervaluing work by female artists. Of the 400 works of art he counted in the Museum of Modern Art, only 14 were by women (3.5%). Saltz also found a significant under-representation of female artists in the six other art institutions he studied.
Generic male language
In literature, the use of masculine language to refer to both men and women may indicate a male or androcentic bias in society where men are seen as the 'norm' and women as the 'other'. Some examples are forms of address (such as "Hey guys" or "Dear Sirs") and masculine nouns and pronouns (such as 'mankind', 'man' or 'he') to refer to both men and women. Philosophy scholar Jennifer Saul argued that the use of male generic language marginalizes women in society. In recent years, some writers have started to use more gender-inclusive language (for instance, using the phrase "he or she", and using gender-inclusive words like humankind, person, businessperson, fire-fighter, chairperson and police-officer).
Many Latin-based languages in the world are also male-centric. For instance, in Spanish the word padres (plural of 'father') means 'parents', abuelos (plural of 'grandfather') means 'grandparents', and chicos means either 'boys' or 'children'. Pluralized nouns are, if describing a mixed-gender group, assigned male word-endings, pronouns, and adjectives. This dominance of the masculine grammatical form in formation of the plural is a property also of Italian, Portuguese and French.
Many studies have shown that male generic language is not interpreted as truly 'gender-inclusive.' Psychological research has shown that, in comparison to unbiased terms such as "he or she" and "humankind," masculine terms lead to male-biased mental imagery in the mind of both the listener and the communicator.
Three studies by Mykol Hamilton show that there is not only a male → people bias but also a people → male bias. In other words, a masculine bias remains even when people are exposed to only gender neutral language (although the bias is lessened). In two of her studies, half of the participants (after exposure to gender neutral language) had male-biased imagery but the rest of the participants displayed no gender bias at all. In her third study, only males showed a masculine-bias (after exposure to gender neutral language) — females showed no gender bias. Hamilton asserted that this may be due to the fact that males have grown up being able to think more easily than females of "any person" as generic "he," since "he" applies to them.
Feminist anthropologist Sally Slocum argues that there has been a longstanding male bias in anthropological thought as evidenced by terminology used when referring to society, culture and humankind. According to Slocum, "All too often the word 'man' is used in such an ambiguous fashion that it is impossible to decide whether it refers to males or just the human species in general, including both males and females."
Generic male symbols
The default images in Western society for 'man' and for 'human being' are usually the same. For example, the 'walking person' light (that indicates when it is safe for pedestrians to cross the road) looks the same as the symbol for 'man' on the door of a male restroom. The typical symbol for 'woman' looks quite different (with long hair and a triangle body to indicate she is wearing a dress).
On the Internet, many avatars are gender-neutral (such as an image of a smiley face). However, when an avatar is human and discernibly gendered, it usually appears to be male. This indicates that the image of a man (but not that of a woman) is considered to be a normative representation of humankind in general.
Politics and the law
In 2008 Rwanda became the first country in the world to have a female-majority Parliament (56% of seats). As of March 2011, Rwanda remains the only country in the world to have a female majority Parliament.
Most Parliaments in the world today are made up primarily of men; therefore there may be some androcentric bias (a privileging of male experiences and perspectives) in law-making. As of 31 January 2011, the global average of women in Parliament is 19%. In the Nordic countries the proportion of females in Parliament is high, about 41% on average, but the representation of women in Parliament in many other Western countries is much lower (for example, the proportion of women in Congress in the United States of America is 19%, and in the United Kingdom it is 29%).
The vast majority of Bibles available today were translated mainly by men. For instance, 93% of the New International Version (NIV) translators were male and 86% of the NRSV translators were male. Therefore, arguably, many Christian teachings come from a more masculine or androcentric viewpoint, and women's experiences and viewpoints can be marginalized.
About half of the Bible translations today use male generic words exclusively in gender-inclusive context (words such as 'mankind', 'man, 'forefathers' and 'he'), arguably marginalizing women. Some of the more recent translations of the Bible have tried to use gender-accurate language where appropriate in the context. The 1989 New Revised Standard Version, NRSV, and the 2005 Today's New International Version, TNIV) are examples.
All of the known authors of the Bible are male. Most well-known biblical characters are men, and women make up only 14% of named characters in the Bible (1,181 men are named in the Bible but only 188 women are named). Therefore, the Bible is largely written from a male perspective and the experiences of women in the Bible are interpreted by men.
Sports media channels such as ESPN and Fox Sports, as well as sports magazines like Sports Illustrated, are assumed to appeal to a predominantly male audience. This is reflected by its advertisers who almost exclusively target men. Men are also most likely to stimulate the sporting economy whether the advertising is targeted non-gender specifically.
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