Re: gender bias in language

Lief M. Hendrickson (hendrick@NOSC.MIL)
Fri, 7 Apr 1995 09:04:40 PDT

On Apr 6, Faybienne Geenuizen wrote:

>Ladies and Gentlemen of the List:
>The "correct," "normal," and "generally accepted" use of the word "man"

I'll have to admit I had a good laugh at how Faybienne's post, with
her patronizing and pedantic prose, could easily be taken as a satire
on feminist thinking. It's soooo predictable!

We all know there are many words that can elicit confusion due to
multiple meanings. Some uses can result in puns or "double
entendres". The former is a play on words in humorous fashion with
the latter tending to be more towards the indelicate side. However,
the meaning of the word "man" is pretty easy to figure out from the
context in which it is used. It's unusual to find a situation today
where the usage as applied to society is ambiguous. The fact that we
clearly include females when the word is used in a societal sense is
solid incorporation of contemporary women in all the advancements
accorded to "mankind" (meaning the same as its derivative "humankind")
irrespective of the position of women of the past in this regard.

We can't change the past, but we can improve the future. The U.S. has
a Declaration of Independence that says, "...all men are created
equal...". At the time it was written, it applied to portions of
society that held certain responsibilities (and burdens and risks, by
the way) which then generally happened to be males. The meaning still
holds, but the context is different since women now unequivocally (and
thankfully) share in those responsibilities. When we say the same
words, "...all men are created equal...", we now mean all homo sapiens
because our civilization has advanced (ideally- if we let it!) to
include expanded roles for all individuals irrespective of gender or
ethnic background. To say the original document was written as a
gender control mechanism with the intent to exclude women is to
tragically miss the intentions of the past men and women who believed
so strongly in the cause. Yet this is exactly the approach of much of
the feminist movement. Things like science and governing institutions
where men had leading roles are deemed invalid because they are viewed
as representing patriarchy. Our tainted way of life must therefore be
overthrown as stated by Roxanne Dunbar: (1)

"By destroying the present society, and building a society
based on feminist principles, men will be forced to live in the
human community on terms very different from the present. For
that to happen, feminism must be asserted by women, as the
basis of revolutionary social change."

The negating and attacking of anything that has reminisces of past
male contributions is the basis of Faybienne's contrived confusion
over what is meant when the word "man" is used. To me, anyone really
having to pause over its meaning nowadays is simply a silly notion,
but I suspect there are plenty of women who would be insulted by
Faybienne's implication of them being too stupid to instantly
understand the meaning of the word. When "man" is used in a societal
or cultural sense, both genders are absolutely included today. There
is no real doubt. To claim otherwise is just a means for feminists to
create an illusion of false consciousness they feel compelled to
destroy. The perceived threats are mechanisms by which, according to
Sandra Lee Bartky, "patriarchy invades the intimate recesses of
personality where it may maim and cripple the spirit forever". (2)

In our society today, we aspire for men and women to be able to make
their own decisions as to way of life and to have equal opportunities.
However, to many feminists this openness is risky since some females
may make the "wrong" choices. For example, they may demean Faybienne
by choosing words like "man" and "mankind". A strong legacy of the
feminist movement is the need to save women from themselves in this
dangerous course. They can choose what they want provided that
unacceptable choices are not offered. In an interview, Simone de
Beauvoir was asked if she believed women should have the choice to
stay home and raise their children if that is what they wish to do.
Beauvior answered, "No, we don't believe that any woman should have
this choice. No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise
her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not
have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too
many women will make that one." (3)

So we see the need for femicop posturing. The direction is to provide
a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to
the devotees of feminism, and to make all other modes of thought
impossible. When the language is suitably purged, thoughts diverging
from feminist logic will be unthinkable, as least insofar as thought
is dependent on words. Our vocabulary must give exact acceptable
meanings while excluding all others and also the possibility of
arriving at them by indirect methods. This will be done partly by the
invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words
and by stripping remaining words of unorthodox meanings and as far as
possible of all secondary meanings whatever. We must be patient for
it will take time to rewrite all the great literature of the past, so
the original versions can then be destroyed, as well as decide on how
to treat certain scientific contributions that may be necessary to
sustain technology to provide the necessities of modern life. In the
end, we will be left with only limited choices, and the most complex
protest the few remaining independent thinkers will be able to utter
will be, "Feminism is ungood".


(1) Roxanne Dunbar, "Female Liberation As A Basis for Social
Revolution", _Notes from the Second Year_, 1970: pg. 53.

(2) Sandra Lee Bartky, _Femininity and Domination: Studies in the
Phenomenology of Oppression_, 1990: pg. 58.

(3) Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvior, "Sex, Society, and the
Female Dilemma", _Saturday Review_, June 14, 1975: pg. 18.