Gender in Language

David Beriss (beriss@BCF.USC.EDU)
Sat, 31 Dec 1994 00:48:40 -0800

This thread on gender and language is stupid and most of the contributions
have been ridiculous.

Just thought I should get that out of the way. I admit I have pretty much
been skimming the postings, but wherever I have stopped people (mostly the
boys, not so much the girls) have been spewing ridiculous venom, repeating
trite old stereotypes about "changing the language", etc. I thought we had
gotten past this somehow, that at least anthros would exhibit traits of
adults. But nooo.

Actually, it was Lief Hendrickson's most recent post that finally got me to
submit this (I had meant to stay out of it, but just can't help myself...).
Lief, were you born yesterday, or do you really think repeating trite jokes
about a supposed feminist desire to eliminate all gender references from
English is funny and original?

Lief asks:

>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.

Where do you get the idea that wanting to improve one's own culture makes it
impossible to study others? Have you forgotten that part of why we study
other cultures is to help us think critically about our own - and you don't
need to like what you study to learn interesting things. Finally, objecting
to certain uses of gendered language does not mean that one cannot "stomach"
the concept of gender in language. It also doesn't mean one wants to
eliminate gender from language. Whatever gave you that idea? It means we
should pay attention to when and how we use gendered language. Try it for a
while and it becomes automatic. Its no big deal. Or, if it is, maybe you
have a deeper problem.

>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".

Here is where the comments about thinking before your write made by Miki
Korp make particular sense. Its a big world Lief and you are making a
mistake in assuming what "reasonable people" will know...As for the names of
museums or other "distinguished" institutions, well, change may be good.
After all, a certain distinguished British anthro journal (if you don't know
which one...) is changing its name as we speak and the sexism of the
soon-to-be-former name is probably at least part of the reason why. Tell me
Lief, will you find this hard to adjust to, or do you think you can live
with it? Will you be unable to find it in the library? How can you, if you
are indeed an anthro, do decent field work if you are unable to adjust to
changing cultural expectations?

As for naming in general, as an anthro, you should be aware that names have
histories, that no name is "just a name" maybe we ought to consider why
a museum would be called the "museum of man". Do you think its crazy to
even look into the question?

>There are real cases of males being
>the victims. This is not to justify past history.

While there are a few, a tiny minorty, this claim is mostly sheer bullshit.
This is the sort of crap that has only gained legitimacy with the arrival of
Rush Limbaugh and Michael Crichton in the mainstream of the media. Anyhow,
if this were so, it would suggest an even greater need for gender neutrality
in the language...but, hey, who can ask for logic?

>However, the most effective way to eliminate
>these behaviors is to focus on the behaviors themselves rather
>than by just attacking one side.

Talking is not behavior? How about writing? I mean, as anthros we mostly are
defined by what we write...are we not engaging in action when we write? This
ought to be so self evident...this sort of idiocy is why I didn't want to
participate in this debate, but someone has to say it.

David Beriss