gender language

Sat, 8 Apr 1995 16:31:31 PDT

It seems to me that there is a meaningful distinction between *man* singular, and
*man* plural. For example, in the post using the sentence "Man is the measure of
all things," this means *man* plural, referring to all of the species. (I
recognize that in this particular instance Pythagoras - to whom the quotation is
attributed -- may have been referring exclusively to males, but I think you get
the ideas.) On the other hand, in the syllogism All men are mortal, Socrates is
a *man*, Socrates must be mortal, you see that the other plural of *man*, the
less inclusive one, *men* is being used.

Much of this debate revolves around context. When someone is using *man* to
denote the whole species, this may be insensitive, but it is clear that they are
not talking about one *man* or even the whole species less females. They mean to
say the whole species. The distinction between *man* plural, referring to the
whole species, and *man* singular, referring to males, is built into the
language, even if the etymology of that distinction is an unpleasant one. I
don't understand why we would use *man* singular (to refer to only males) when we
have a perfectly good plural *men* to do that. Again, this distinction is
clearly articulated (unlike mine) in the two phrases given below:

Man is the measure of all things, which could easily be:
Humans are the measure of all things, which could easily be:
The whole species is the measure of all things, which could not be:
Men are the measure of all things.
In my opinion, the meaning is just not maintained.

BTW, in german, man refers to *one*, as in, male or female.

Some general thoughts:

I like to avoid using terms that will brand me an insensitive misogynist, just as
I avoid terms that will brand me a racist. I do this because it makes my life
easier, and it allows me to communicate. Exclusion is really a two way street,
and though I decry the move towards linguistic extermination, I realize that I am
not going to get anywhere (either in my argumentation or in my life) by trying to
fight everyone's battle. This, of course, is incredibly cynical, and I don't
know the effects of such self - preservation, but I think we should look at it as
a work in progress, one that will be continually stretched and pulled until it
reaches some sort of equilibrium. My feeling is that words that are amenable to
change, like fireman ---> firefighter will be relatively quick to go, but words
like handyman ----> to handyperson (spotted in Columbia's memorial service) will
probably stay as they were.

I appreciate the fight on both sides, but evolution is inevitable and essential.
Regardless of whether we all like it or not, words will change now as they have
in the past. Again, this is both good and bad. It is good if changing words
will have some impact on the way that women and men perceive themselves, and bad,
if it is the result of coersion and blacklisting. Thus, if femicops want to
hurry up and purge the language of offensive language, (some thing that I think
would happen eventually, albeit at a much slower rate, since referring to a
female as a fireman is, above all, inaccurate), that is their perogative, of
course. But they should be aware that the consequences of such radical action has
been writ large in American backlash and even on this rather congenial list. I
don't necessarily blame feminists, but when much of middle america (most of the
country is not represented by BOWASH [Boston ---> Washington] and California)
rises up and turns on their Rush Limbaugh every morning, they might want to
change their tactics. My constitution is such that I like gentle prodding rather
than a big bang on the head with a hammer.

Lastly, in regards to the post concerning affirmative action, I think that we
should be looking more towards providing equal opportunities. I don't know
exactly how this would play out, but there is a qualitative difference between
giving everyone a chance to apply, and saying that a university should hire
someone because they are one race, creed or another.

Along this line, has anyone considered the implication of the recent explosion in
mixed marriages? Next generation, everyone will be a protected group of some
sort:) Then what will we do?

Okay, i really apologize for this rambling post. I have refrained from writing
for a long time, and a lot was building up. I only wish I had more time to
organize it coherently. I hope that I have not been too simplistic or silly.


Spencer Austin Lehv
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Telephone: 212.853.2441