Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: John Russell <johnr -at- BRS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 10:03:05 EST

> Tim Alton writes:
> Many companies are now scuttling into cobwebby holes
> to avoid confronting angry feminists over "his" as the indefinite
> pronoun. A lot of otherwise thoughtful people have suggested using "them"
> as an acceptable substitute. Sorry, but I can't agree. I see using "them"
> in singular applications as a "bump" that the user has to get over.

> <end quote>

> I don't consider myself an angry feminist, nor a particularly ardent one.
> however I do find that I don't relate the pronoun His to me. I don't
> think of the word mankind as being sexist, but I definitely find his or
> he or the use of male examples only as annoying. I also find it
> interferes with my comprehension, instead of taking in the data I find
> myself saying "don't they think computer operators can be female?" I
> much prefer using their, you, them or any of those words which don't
> denote a sex. From talking to some of my other female colleagues, they
> feel the same way. In other words you end up noticing the language
> rather than the message. Which from a technical communicator's point of
> view is bad.

I favor using their/them/they and so on as singular. And I think Colleen
is touching on the basis for my reasoning.

In a male-dominated society and language, the effect of male-oriented
verbage on the female perspective is beyond mens' comprehension because,
simply, it doesn't apply to them. Yes, it's ego to an extent, but more
accurately it's perspective.

Can a woman *truly* understand something that's inheritantly male? Can a
man *truly* understand something that's inheritantly female? Of course not.

I recently obtained a book for my 2-year old called "The Little Train
that Could." I hadn't read this book in many years. As I read it, I
noticed (for christ sake, I was knocked over the head with it) that all the
friendly and helpful trains were female and all the unfriendly, rude, and
unhelpful trains were male.

I am so angered and offended by this portrayal that I can only read this
book satirically to my son, pointing out at every opportunity that the
female trains are "scorned feminists" who are "trying to make a point."

But the points behind my reading this book satirically and Colleen's for
using "them" in the singular are the same: the use of female and male
pronouns *DOES* affect the reader (male or female). Using male pronouns
to portray the rude, unfriendly, and unhelpful trains paints ALL men as
rude, unfriendly, and unhelpful. Exclusively using male pronouns in
language EXCLUDES WOMEN from the conversation--indeed from society.
Just as I am offended by the use of pronouns in that book, so should women
be offended for the use of pronouns elsewhere in language.

In many respects, this is analogous to Plato's allegory of the cave. The
person who is led out of the cave, upon seeing more than a world of shadows,
will never want to go back to the cave. But also, they will be convinced
that the others still in the cave should also be led out. Yet those others
would surely kill that person than be brought away from what they have always
believed as the truth.

Tim Altom is in the cave, and surely he would prefer Colleen dead than
consider that the truth is something other than the shadows he's been
seeing on the wall all his life.

Come on out of the cave, Tim. There really *is* a truth out here. And
it isn't merely in the name of "policital correctness" or "feminism." It's
a truth in the name of "fair play," "equality," "equal opportunity,"
"inclusion." And, it's to everyone's--meaning society's--benefit that
women be involved in the conversations that have been for so long male-only.

(My skepticism: seeing that I'm with Colleen on this point, Tim will surely
prefer me dead, too, than consider this slight, albeit significant, change.)


johnr -at- brs -dot- com

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