Re: He/she

Subject: Re: He/she
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 1994 17:12:20 EST

Jan Boomsliter <boom -at- CADENCE -dot- COM> writes:
>Yes, I'd say that language plays a part in "cultural factors." Isn't
>that the point of this discussion, that what people are called, whether
>they are even included in the discussion, affects how they are

I'd even say it's part of the way they are treated. In any case,
culture certainly affects language, so I'm willing to buy there's
a feedback loop, and language can affect culture.

This is a broader question, though, than I was asking. My question is:
how does using "he" as a default pronoun affect cultural factors?
Especially: how much does it promote or contribute to sexism?

> "... However, I am not
> convinced that the issue has the profound sociological impact that
> has been attributed to it. I am convinced it has _some_ impact,
> but I'm not sure how much. The lack of a gendered pronoun in
> Japanese, for example, doesn't appear to have had profound effects
> on the role of women in Japanese culture."

>Say what?

Let me rephrase: if using "he" as a default pronoun is a major _cause_
of sexism in our society, then why do societies that don't use "he"
as the default pronoun (Japanese uses gender-neutral pronouns, I believe)
still exhibit high degrees of sexism?

Frankly, there are plenty of answers possible here. But the very
juxtaposition of gender-neutral Japanese language with decidedly
sexist Japanese culture tends to suggest that language and culture are
not as tightly coupled as language reformers believe.

I hope this clarifies,

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.
Also: apologies to anyone from Japan who was offended by my
over-simplifying summation.

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