WTF is a GFP??

Posted 22nd November 2020

Perhaps the most common question I get in my inbox. GFP was born along with my weekly Invisible Women newsletter — and if you haven’t yet signed up where have you been??

GFP came about out of a need for a collective term to refer to my, well, my GFPs. That is, the lovely people to whom I was writing my newsletter. Guys was out of the question for obvious default male reasons. I considered other options: people, friends, team, gang, “you lot”, but none of them felt quite right. So I decided to come up with a new term of my own: and so Generic Female Pal, or GFP for short, came into being.

But why Generic Female Pal? Well, for those who haven’t read Invisible Women yet, its premise is that the data gap is a result of our tendency to view male as a neutral human default:

One of the most important things to say about the gender data gap is that it is not generally malicious, or even deliberate. Quite the opposite. It is simply the product of a way of thinking that has been around for millennia and is therefore a kind of not thinking. A double not thinking, even: men go without saying, and women don’t get said at all. Because when we say human, on the whole, we mean man. 

(IW, xii)

This way of thinking is expressed in a myriad of different ways (for full details see IW pp.ix – 411), but one of the most basic ways is in language, via what is called the generic male. The generic male is of course an oxymoron. Male is not generic, it is male. But because male is the default, we have, for generations, pretended that male can also be generic. Sexless. Gender neutral. The standard from which female deviates and becomes sexed.

In English that means using male-marked words such as “he”, and “man”, gender-neutrally. In other languages its use is more extensive, for example in Spanish using the masculine form for a group of 100 teachers because while 99 are female, one is male, and male is the gender neutral form. Clear?

Well, no, obviously not clear. Actually quite confusing. Because, as I explain in Invisible Women,

Numerous studies in a variety of languages over the past forty years have consistently found that what is called the ‘generic masculine’ (using words like ‘he’ in a gender-neutral way) is not in fact read generically. It is read overwhelmingly as male. And yet, in the face of decades of evidence that the generic masculine is anything but clear, official language policy in many countries continues to insist that it is purely a formality whose use must continue for the sake of … clarity.  

IW, p.6

ANYWAY. This is all a very long way of explaining that when I came to deciding on a collective term for the lovely wonderful people who signed up to my newsletter, I knew I wanted to play with this. Because in the world of my newsletter, while males are, of course, very welcome, (I mean, OBVIOUSLY, because CLEARLY, male is included in female, it’s there in the word itself, also, it’s just generic, duh, god why are you so touchy!!!) female is the generic. Just my little default female oasis in a default male world. 😘