Re: gender bias in language

Valerie Samson (samson@NETCOM.COM)
Tue, 4 Apr 1995 16:17:50 -0800

On March 30 Chris Flaherty wrote: 'Humankind'
>represents the totality of humanity. That can be agreed on. 'Mankind' can
>no longer be viewed as a wholly representative word--it is simply
>impossible for a female in this world today to see it that way. If the
>last sentence puzzles you, I don't know what to say.

It shocks me. I think there is a danger here of ignoring alternate
interpretions and alternate cultural experiences. If you wear red, can it
mean ONLY that you are a communist? Depending on the context, wearing red
could mean that you belonged to a gang, that you are patriotic, that you
are celebrating Christmas, or that you simply want to wear a bright color.

In 1991 Regents' Lecturer Yusef Lateef baffled the students at UCLA by
taking offense at the word "jazz." To the students, Mr.Lateef was a famous
jazz musician; but Mr. Lateef insisted he was a MUSICIAN. "Jazz" was such a
derogatory word to him that he would not allow it to be used in his
presence. Because the students had no desire to insult Mr. Lateef, they
complied with his wishes during his visit. Should they permanently drop the
word "jazz" from their vocabulary?

The word "Mankind" is a similar word, capable of offending a few people of
a specific generation, gender, and culture at this point in time. As a
scholar, reading this word as non-inclusive of the totality of the human
race is self-sabotage. Perceived insults distract women from substantive
issues and insure their outsider status in academia.

Valerie Samson