Friday, May 16, 2008

Toward a Gender Neutral Language

I've been thinking a lot about sexist language. I appreciate that its odious effects have been ameliorated (paradoxically at the urgings of a small group of female men who, we might argue, seem to exhibit a hatred of their own sex) by the retirement of such vile words as chairwoman and aviatrix from the English language. These words and other like them vivify and perpetuate feminine hegemony by means of a secondary lexicon explicitly designed to exalt the female sex. In the former regime, for example, it was fine to be an “actor” as anyone male or female could. Only those of the female sex were privileged to be “actresses”. The male performer could in no analogous way distinguish himself and was relegated perforce to inferior status.

However many words survive the old order, and the subjugation of the bearer of the XY chromosome persists in the use of separate pronouns for the female sex. Grammatically, the personal pronouns “he”, “him” and “his” have always referred to a person of either sex. However the continued use of “she” and “her” applied only to a man of the female sex grants him an unwarranted elevation. While we must assiduously avoid the awkward use of plural pronouns with singular verbs as unduly offensive to the sensitive grammarian, the slightly less cumbersome “he/she”, “him/her” constructions only exacerbate the entrenched sexism in the language.

While the elimination of separate female pronouns would be salutary, the final goal in our pursuit of sexual equality must be the prohibition of the word “woman”. I propose, beginning among society’s more enlightened set, the immediate establishment of social taboos on the word. “Woman” must be as the new “Negro”—its sister word “Womyn” the new “Nigger”—its each use inflicting mortal wounding to the dignity of that half the human race to whom it was never granted to be applied. Gradually, men of both sexes and all levels of society will begin to see the word for what it is—the last vestige of the ball-and-chain of the past’s oppressor-sex.

Long gone, thankfully, are the days when those of the female sex could ensconce themselves spider-like in their homes surrounded by loving children, while forcing their hapless male partners to labor tirelessly in thankless pursuits to provide them with bon-bons and luxury items. Need we be reminded of those loathsome days everyday in our language?

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I'd be a blackguard and a cad, if I weren't so ineffectual. The less said "About Me", the better.