Re: gender bias in language

Faybienne Geenhuizen (fgeenhzn@IU.NET)
Thu, 6 Apr 1995 16:46:28 -0400

Ladies and Gentlemen of the List:

The "correct," "normal," and "generally accepted" use of the word "man"
to refer to our species is left over from a time when our society and
world view were thoroughly patriarchal. Its continued usage in this
respect is an anachronism, and since its use in this way has been
objected to for a number of years, such use cannot be regarded as
"generally accepted" any longer.

Since the word "man" is most frequently used to mean only the males of
our species, on those occasions when it is used to mean all members
of our species we females must pause and remind ourselves that we, too,
are included in the term "man." It is demeaning to be put into the
position of having to perform that mental exercise, and it is unfair
in that the males in our group are not so burdened. Perhaps, since the
species is composed of two sexes, we should refer to our species as
Woman and Womankind half of the time, giving the gentlemen the opportunity
to participate in this peculiar experience by reminding themselves that
they, too, are included in the term "woman."

In the face of objections from women, continued use of the terms "man"
and "mankind" to describe our species is an overt declaration that the
standard of our species is male. While women may not have regarded
those terms as offensive in other times, many of us do today. In this
situation why would someone who does not intend to give offense
continue to use a term knowing that it is offensive?

While the word "human" may derive from "homo," meaning "man" in Latin,
it is never used in the English language to refer only to the males of
our species. Therefore there is never any ambiguity as to whether it
means men-only or men-and-women, women do not have to remind themselves
that an exclusive term is being used inclusively on a particular
occasion, and so "human" and "humankind" are not offensive. Someone
who wished to avoid offense would be happy to substitute an inoffensive
and gender-neutral term (and a perfectly good word too) when one is
offered. If America could survive the adjustment to "Ms.", which
was invented at the time, it can survive this.

Faybienne Geenhuizen