And I Thought Anthro Was PC!

Franz Aubrey Metcalf (fmetcalf@CRL.COM)
Mon, 2 Jan 1995 04:23:30 -0800


I wasn't sure what to title this post, but wanted it to relate
my simultaneously etic and emic perspective on this list and anthropology
in general. I have been following the thread on gender language with some
dismay, and am finally prompted to write as something of a participant-

I'm doing a dissertation in religion, but doing anthropological
fieldwork and using anthropological perspectives. I must say that I have
been privileged to gain my small expertise from two teachers who have both
widened and deepened my vision of what it is to be human. (These teachers
were McKim Marriot and Gil Herdt, should you care.) My work with them
has increased my tolerance and enriched my compassion for people I don't
understand or like (people I understand and like were never much of a
problem). It seems, though, that I have been laboring under a naive
illusion; you see, I thought that the whole discipline of anthropology
grew mostly from a desire learn about what it means to be different, that
is, different from white, Eurocentric, educated, affluent, powerful men.
And that the the mostly unstated goal of anthropology was to help the
white, Eurocentric, educated, affluent, powerful male world do right by all
these others ("Others"). This "doing right" ought, at the absolute and easy
least, should mandate including them in the compass of humanity.

I don't want to sound too terribly superior, since I do feel
genuinely naive, but I am shocked that after one hundred years, this
discipline, embodied (if one can say that of an Internet forum) by this
list, is still *acrimoniously* debating the merit of working toward
inclusive language. Let me repeat the key word there: shocked. Maybe I've
been reading the wrong authors, but I truly thought that anthropology had
gotten past this. I mean we've gotten past it in religious studies, I
should have thought here it would have died the death decades ago. To think
that eliding women from the *very name of humanity* would not have
repercussions going beyond "mere" language is so profoundly un-anthropological
and un-humane a notion I can hardly believe to see it still in print. Ugh.

Now for my contribution, which I presume to give, simply because
postive suggestions in this thread have been so few and far between.

While I do not share Ms. Rohrlich's bitterness, I gladly share her
camp and would cast my little stone at the misguided and smug rearguard
defenders of sexist language. I do not advocate genderless language any
more than genderless culture; sexes exist and so should words to name them.
Let common sense and the language work for you as I make them work for me:
I either find elegant ways to avoid gender usage altogether or I alternate
between male and female examples in my writing. Both methods are necessary.
To employ the former exclusively is to fall into the trap of falsely
describing a genderless world, thus we need to use examples of persons, and
persons are always sexed. So use examples, male and female, as we are.

That's it. Simple. Deceptively simple, I'm afraid. I used to think
I was indeed referring to all persons when I said "men," but one day I
realized that whenever I said "men" I pictured men, and whenever I used a
"him" as an example, I pictured a him. I've replaced the former (except
where I mean it, as in the next paragraph) and I've added "hers" to the
latter. My world, in what I still hope is good anthopological fashion,
is the better for it.

One more thing: are Denise O'Brien and I the only people to have
noticed that Mr.Henrickson, in discussing what to call the person who
brings us our snailmail, wrote this (I quote exactly): "'Male carrier'
instead of 'mailman' is O.K. by me."? Several men have commented on this
one way or another, but none has seemed to notice the absolutely blatant
Freudian slip. I am sure that a male carrier is exactly what Mr. H wants, if
he can't have a mailman. But, one is tempted to believe he is baiting us;
that might be a credit to him. It is to anyone's discredit if they failed
to notice it.

Now I would like to wish you *all* a better 1995 than we had 1994.
And yet the words come to mind, "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men."
Doesn't that say a mouthfull?

Just peace,


Franz Aubrey Metcalf That ol' U of Chicago
But now happily dissertating in Los Angeles