Re: rohrlich/human rights

Cliff Sloane (cesloane@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
Fri, 30 Dec 1994 11:12:10 -0600

There once was a time when I, too, thought that sexually inclusive
language was a political obligation. To this day, I always opt for the
sexually neutral terminology. This is, however, a taste preference. I
have come to the conclusion that there is no political obligation in such
usage. Permit me to elaborate.

The essential argument of feminism deals primarily with issues of
political and economic power. Especially in anthropology, feminist theory
seeks to focus analytical attention on unremarkable, unrewarded and
unacknowledged labor within various cultures.

The demand for inclusive language, as a form of etiquette, is fine and
well. But it does not represent any fundamental obstacle to advancement
within anthropology (or the academy as a whole); these obstacles lie
elsewhere (i.e., see Rabinow's essay on the habitus of faculty
appointments in Fox, _Recapturing Anthropology_).

When an advocate for inclusive language equates it with class
oppression or other forms of overt domination, it strikes me as a
reversal of Whorf thinking; by forcing a change in language, one can
forcibly effect changes in cognition and voila', a change in political

Two problems with this:
1. It is clearly a form of thought control. If you cannot successfully
alter behavior, go after people's innermost thoughts.
2. It obliterates any sense of perspective when it comes to inequality.
The advocates for "inclusive" language are already in a relatively
powerful position vis-a-vis this or any other society. To see language
choice as being of the same rank as apartheid is simply lacking

I would submit, finally, that an immoderate objection to language choice
represents a lack of understanding of the nature of stratification in the
"real" world.

Cliff Sloane