Re: 'Women' as an adjective (was RE: sex or gender?)

Subject: Re: 'Women' as an adjective (was RE: sex or gender?)
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 1995 09:19:00 PST

Doug Bailey wrote:
>I had the understanding
>that it is proper to use 'female' in these instances, as in
>"There are 30 female firefighters..." In fact, it has been years
>since I've last heard 'female' used in this way. Even 'men' or
>'man' seems to be coming into vogue, though I do
>remember hearing something like, "There are 70 male
>firefighters on the force" not very long ago. This seems to be
>a double standard, or perhaps the change has been slower in
>regards to men.
>Is this a result of feminist pressure?

No, this is the result of resistance to the idea of gender-neutral
language.

The correct thing is to say that there are 100 firefighters. If one
*must* make some distinction in the ranks of the firefighters along
the lines you suggest, then one could say "There are 100 firefighters;
70 are male and 30 female." Or it seems equally correct to say "There
are 100 technical writers; of these 70 are men and 30 are women."

The point is to avoid adding an irrelevant qualifier. Adding a
qualifier ("male" or "female") to a term (firefighter)--like the oft
heard "male nurse"-- just helps perpetuate a stereotype and adds a
subtle endorsement to it.

>Is this usage of 'women' or 'men' an accepted form? Has
>this been the standard in 'proper' English, or has the media
>adopted this change on their own?

Accepted by whom? I think the organizations you refer to as the media
are now the arbiters of 'proper' english (I know, I know, a sad day
indeed--but arguing against the weather never gets one far). That is,
assuming you accept the idea that while language (grammar, spelling,
usage) used to be standardized by the writings of the elites, now it
is standardized by the babbling of the telecommunications of the elites.
Given the decline in letters and the advent of the post-literate age
(cf. "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman), it is hard to argue
that those who once would have defined 'proper' English have much say
in it anymore.


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