Gender in Language

Lief M. Hendrickson (hendrick@NOSC.MIL)
Fri, 30 Dec 1994 23:02:46 PST

On Dec. 30, Rohrlich (notice no use of "Ms." to avoid gender
reference!) threw one of her many mindless stones at someone in a
discussion concerning use of the word "mankind". She stated:

>How Bjorn must be reveling in all this male support, which is justifying
>his continuing use of male supremacist language. Keep bonding, boys. Ruby

This is a sexist accusation!

Normally the thing to do with Ruby's silly posts is simply ignore
them, but here she's trying to create gender polarization which,
until now, I thought she was trying to prevent. No sense in
dignifying Ruby by calling her a name (whoops, I referred to her
as "her" which labels her gender- guess we'd better change that
to "...calling it a name"!).

Mutual usage of the English language does not create a bond with
Bjorn nor does it support him. He did not devise the language.
He also had no intention of gender reference in the post that
started this. As John Relethford stated, "As to the idea that we
should change our speech 'even if it offended one human being'-
who would be left to talk to?..."

We should be more concerned with what is being said- in its
context- than creating a new language. Look at other languages.
Many have gender embodied in their nouns and all tenses of their
verbs. How can you study other cultures if you can't stomach the
concept of gender in language? Does anyone here advocate
changing all the languages of the world to eliminate gender? You
may have some opposition here.

Cliff Stone's Dec. 30 posting stated "The demand for inclusive
language, as a form of etiquette, is fine and well..." I agree
and do so when the situation calls for it. It shows courtesy and
consideration- which, unfortunately, some find difficult to give
and others difficult to receive.

I realize there is considered controversy on this issue. It
often creates derision. I would hope to not be accused of
discrimination if I refer to some characteristic of "early man"
since reasonable people would know that refers to the early homo
sapiens species- and does not exclude females. In San Diego,
there is a distinguished museum called the "Museum of Man". No
one (except a certain crazy person!) would insist we refer to it
as the "Museum of People".

I personally oppose sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
One thing that may be overlooked here is that both behaviors can
occur in either direction. There are real cases of males being
the victims. This is not to justify past history. There hasn't
been a scandal like the "Tailhook Convention" involving females
harassing males. However, the most effective way to eliminate
these behaviors is to focus on the behaviors themselves rather
than by just attacking one side. Trying to do it indirectly by
changing the language will just lead to creation of new words and
meanings by those who insist in perpetuating their actions.
Humpty Dumpty knew this:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a
scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-
neither more nor less."

"The question is", said Alice, "whether you can make
words mean so many different things."

"The question is", said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be
master- that's all".

There will always be people who attribute some unintended meaning to
words. On that vein, I don't doubt there'll be offense taken at
this posting. If changing the language is your bag, go ahead.
I'm not stopping you. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, there are a
lot of pretty critical things going on in the world that require
clear understanding of intent in communication. An obsession
with hidden and unintended meanings can only obscure this process
leading to, as Carter Pate's posting stated, "...PERSONGLING our
language beyond recognition".