gender bias and economy of language

Matthew S. Tomaso (Tomaso@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Wed, 5 Apr 1995 12:16:19 -0500

Adding 'hu' to the word 'mankind' to form the word 'humankind' is an
arbitrary act which does, however, change verbal connotations. The words
themselves are, like all words, arbitrary and constructed, but nonetheless,
loaded with (unfixed) meanings. And so, if it's going to piss somebody
(anybody) off if we use the word 'mankind' gender-inclusively, and if the
word 'humankind' allows for a more people-inclusive and productive discourse
- why the fuss over the prefix 'hu'?

Provocatively, Valerie Samson wrote:

> 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.

While I think that this is an interesting way to argue, and I do see
something of an ethical and political (if not necessarily real) point buried
in it somewhere, I think it might be instructive to try to imagine what
issues feminists, generally (both men and women), will be excluded from if
they (we) dislike the use of the word 'mankind'. I dislike its use, and my
attempts to purge my own and others' vocabularies of it have never
distracted me from substantive issues whatsoever. Furthermore, and perhaps
partially because I am sexed male, the issues of gender-language have never
prevented me from being an academic. I also know many women academics who
happily rant about gender language and are not excluded from anything
besides meetings of the old boys' club (as if they would attend in the first
place). Moreover, why can't the words themselves and their contested
meanings BE a substantive issue? The meaningsof
power-gender-connotation-ideology loaded terminology are, in the minds of
many anthropologists, substantive issues, right? Under what circumstances
are 'substantive issues' invented and realized (?) and by whom (?) for whom

Matt Tomaso, Human.

University of Texas at Austin.