Re: human rights / culture

Biskowski, Marty (biskowsk@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Fri, 30 Dec 1994 11:55:00 PST

Fri, 30 Dec 1994, Ruby Rohrlich wrote:

> I stopped listening to you when I again came across your use of the word
> "mankind." It would appear that you are psychologically addicted to the
> use of linguistic male supremacy, when there are sev eral other synonyms
> you could use, like "people," "humanity," "human race." I think all your
> talk about human rights is garbage when you insist on using a male
> generic that excludes half of the human race. If you were not so
> egocentric, you would change your speech even if it offended one human
> being. In the future, when I see your name on a posting, I will delete
> it without reading it, because what you have to say about human rights
> and cultural values is hypocritical garbage. Ruby Rohrlich
One would think from this that a speaker possesses sole responsibility for
making a statement "offensive", as if some automatic and unquestionable black
box mechanism made it so. Yet, if we assume that everyone here is
communicating in good faith -- without the intent to offend -- then the onus
for offensive communications falls mainly with those who choose to take
offense rather than persuade through reasonable argument.

In my own humble opinion, Ruby Rohrlich is correct in her concern about how
the usage of various terms condition thinking about gender relationships.
Changing how people use such terms is an important priority for her, but
it would be more reasonable for her to take offense if (a) the gender
neutralization of one's own speech was always as easy as she implies, and (b)
every other theoretical or ethical priority of concern would go away as we
re-learned basic communication skills. Unfortunately, the world contains too
many problems to allow this, so perhaps it is best if we continue trying to
muddle through as best we can.

Marty Biskowski