Gender Issues

Subject: Gender Issues
From: Tom Phillips <tphillips -at- CCMGATE -dot- MBSBOOKS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 1997 08:50:23 CST

Hi all. Forgive me if this seems a little late on the subject and/or
if someone has already brought up this point...

In a recent posting on gender issues, the author (sorry, can't
remember exactly who) gave several illustrations of how to avoid using
"he" as a generic pronoun. If memory serves, the examples the author
gave were taken from "The Non-Sexist Word Finder," which apparently
used famous quotes with the generic "he" to illustrate how such things
can be revised.

Now, regardless of how you think the gender issue should be dealt with
(he/she vs. s/he, etc.), I am curious to know how everyone feels about
correcting famous texts/quotations to avoid generic pronouns? Is it
right to take a famous quote, such as "From each according to his
abilities, to each according to his needs," (Karl Marx) and change it
to "From each of us according to our abilities, to each of us
according to our needs?" Is it right to take a famous passage from oh
say Shakespeare and change it?


I say No. I am a strong supporter of avoiding "he" in contemporary
writing (technical, creative, and otherwise), but I also feel strongly
that it is wrong to go back and change past texts/quotes. Such
tampering is, in my opinion, an unforgivable misrepresentation of that
author's/person's words. There are those who would argue that the
meaning of the text/quote is not changed by such alteration. I
agree--the meaning is NOT changed, but that's irrelevant. I still
think it's WRONG to change the words of others. What gives us the

I'm sure that many of you will disagree with me. Great! Let me know
why you think it is OK to change texts/quotes to avoid using the
generic "he". But PLEASE don't flame me--I'm just expressing an
opinion here and am not looking to pick a fight.

Tom Phillips
Technical Writer
MBS Textbook Exchange, Inc.
email: tphillips -at- mbsbooks -dot- com

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