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Maria
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Thu Apr 19, 2007 10:19 pm Post

Hi,

good to see that there are people who understand that language changes. Some speak of oversensitivity or radicalism, I don't assume that the point of view with which valente.mac started the discussion and that I share and defend here is either oversensitive or radical. We just claim that we are called what we are and that we are included in the language of those who want to communicate with us. This is possible. And like Alexandria I do not mind some grotesque episode in that process, they naturally occur, but this is better than remaining in old patterns of female subservience.

Again, it is easy to make fun of the weak. I always remember a set of photos from the early 20th century I saw when studying in Cambridge: some male members of the coming elite of the British empire, dressed in strange costumes and making fun of women who claimed the right for education for themselves. Now, who is ridiculous in the ennd?

Best,
Maria

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brett
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Thu Apr 19, 2007 10:38 pm Post

I agree that it's usually possible to write around the gender reference problem in English. When it's not, I tend to switch back and forth between "he" and "she" just as a sort of reminder that we come in both flavors. I used to tell my writing students that if we were talking/writing about readers (particularly book readers), it's more accurate to use "she" as most US book readers (approaching 2/3, I think) are women. And I think that changed the image in their minds about who was reading their work, and that's a good thing.

po
polymathic
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Thu Apr 19, 2007 10:54 pm Post

While I do believe in a greater awareness of gender-biased usage, there is another element about the debate over 'political correct' language that troubles me. Namely, that this debate--often heated in academic environment--is both a distraction from the more important matters, and a irrelevant to to those outside of the ivory tower those who post on this site live in (Mac-owners, academics, writers, developers, and users or Scrivener).

Keith said, rightfully, that language is alive, changes and shifts, but I would add that academics are not the ones controlling it. Outside of the intelligentsia (that tiny percentage of the world population) the people use language to communicate without a thought to language itself. On the streets, gender neutral usage is rare, and often seen suspiciously--the latest snobbery used by "liberals" and "intellectuals" to make the average person feel inadequate. Furthermore, our attention to it makes us hyper gender focused, in parts because this usage is not what we have grown up with, and it hasn't happened organically.

But, more importantly, as we argue over the fine points of gender-neutral grammar in the ivory tower, in the world outside--even in the most progressive nations--women are still payed nearly 20% less than men for the same job. Even in universities--that bastion of liberalism and feminism--male tenured faculty far outweighs female tenured faculty. Daily, women are subjected to a different set of standards and expectations. These standards have been assimilated by some women themselves: I've had two female university students write papers arguing women were not fit to be president of the USA (very weak papers, needless to say). If we leave the borders of the First World, quickly, and in most places, women are in a dire socioeconomic situation, with little political clout, and little domestic control. Even in the First World, countries such as South Korea hold women in such low esteem that it is illegal to find out the gender of your child before birth, lest the fetus be aborted if it isn't a male.

Meanwhile, we argue over the usage of fe-male, wo-man, and we launch a grand-scale linguistic purge within the walls of the university. No doubt, the old boys' club rubs its hands as liberals battle over words, a battle that is unlikely to travel beyond campus grounds.

In the end, I have the uneasy feeling that this debate is a substitute for meaningful action.

Sorry for the length of the post.....
:oops:

St
Studio717
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Thu Apr 19, 2007 11:06 pm Post

Today's world is a very different place from, say, thirty, forty years ago. Things have changed, some for the better, some not.

Women just got the right to vote in the US 87 years ago. (And we only got that by one, count 'em, one vote.) That's one woman's lifetime ago. (In fact, I have an aunt in her early 90s who was born before the passage of the 19th Amendment.)

Change - whether our culture or our language - does happen. Sometimes it just takes longer than some of us would like. :D

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alexwein
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Thu Apr 19, 2007 11:30 pm Post

polymathic wrote:Namely, that this debate--often heated in academic environment--is both a distraction from the more important matters, and a irrelevant to to those outside of the ivory tower those who post on this site live in (Mac-owners, academics, writers, developers, and users or Scrivener)....

In the end, I have the uneasy feeling that this debate is a substitute for meaningful action.

Sorry for the length of the post.....
:oops:


Thanks for the thoughtful post. I have two comments. First I believe you are quite wrong about this being an academic issue. My first encounter with this whole issue was prior to my being involved in academics. And even if it were something that was discussed more in academic circles, if you believe as I do that language and thought and action are intimately tied, then who cares where the discussion comes from? As long as it has a real-world impact.

Which brings me to my second disagreement, that this is NOT meaningful action. Of course we have to address all the other things you mentioned, but what is one of the very first things we encounter as developing human beings, something that shapes us as much as we shape it? Language--it is the bedrock of how we think, our orientation to things, how we conceptualize ourselves, our world. So there are some who tackle the political aspects of discrimination, others who tackle socio-economic aspects, and others who tackle the ways discrimination becomes institutionalized and becomes systemic, such as with these language issues. Or someone does all three of these things in different ways or at different times. It's not one or the other. They are all vitally important ways to tackle such huge and pervasive issues.

I grew up on picket lines and come from a totally non-academic, but highly politically active family myself. So I've had the opportunity to see these kinds of issues from different perspectives. I see them all as important and worthy of attention. I think they are all forms of meaningful action. And how much more meaningful can action be than when it affects us on the level of language??

Alexandria
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Khadrelt
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Fri Apr 20, 2007 3:53 pm Post

I'm afraid I also have to disagree with you, polymathic.

I come from a family of professors, writers, and other 'academic' types. My wife's family is a bunch of backwoods hillbillies (serious, they're the type of people the redneck jokes get made about :) ).

But even though her family slaughters the English language (it makes me cringe sometimes) I can tell you that language is not irrelevant to them. They have their own ways of saying things, but even though it may not be 'proper' or 'academic,' they still take language seriously.

I always hated the 'ivory tower' thing, anyway. I don't like it when people imply that I'm somehow up on this pedestal just because I can usually throw words together in a somewhat recognizable pattern. So I write books - so what? My redneck brothers-in-law all turned out to be chemical engineers and are making a LOT more money than I am! They still can't speak correctly, but they beat the tar out of me when it comes to math.

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polymathic
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Fri Apr 20, 2007 8:46 pm Post

Khadrelt, I did not write that people do not take language seriously. I wrote that they use it to communicate without thought to finer grammatical usage. Further, I don't really understand how your in-laws grammatical usage and becoming engineers connects to what I was writing about: the heated debate over gender-bias use of language, and the rewriting of grammatical rules and the changing of words to address these issues.

alexwein, I don't believe this is exclusively an academic issue, but it is constrained to a narrow, privileged segment of the world population. Whether your family was keenly aware of this gender issue doesn't mean this is widespread. Clearly, your family was politically engaged. That too has become a minority of the population; political apathy is the norm once we leave privilege, in USA especially. A tiny percentage of the poorest American even vote.

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djbutt
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Fri Apr 20, 2007 10:38 pm Post

polymathic wrote:I don't believe this is exclusively an academic issue, but it is constrained to a narrow, privileged segment of the world population.


Of course, the discussion about the preferred rules of language is a specialist enterprise, just as the discussion about social policy is a specialist enterprise. But the specialist consensus on language ends up having political effects on everyone who uses the language, precisely because, as you point out, most people don't think about it and use whatever is around. That's not to say that academics or specialists control it, but the language does travel, and I think those of us who think about writing should take some kind of responsibility for our language.

If you look at the history of these debates you'll see that exclusive language usually reflects a status quo (e.g, "stuff is generally done by men unless you point out an exception with 'she'"). That's fine if you see yourself reflected in that language. But if you don't, it's a constant reminder of societal norms that one is trying to change.

Anyway, the bottom line is that it's pretty easy to get used to using gender-neutral language, and you don't need to use high-falutin academic words in doing so, as others have pointed out.

Basically, my experience is that whereever sub/unconsciously gender-specific langauge is used, there are not usually very many women around. If you're happy with that, I guess that's fine, but I don't think you can pretend it's just a class issue. I prefer a more gender-balanced environment, myself.

We're not talking about software for other folk now, are we :7. Topic move?

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Maria
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Fri Apr 20, 2007 10:46 pm Post

EDIT: Sorry, this is really not about Software ;), and it is more a problem in Germany (and perhaps a few other continental countries) than it is for those living in English speaking countries. The background of my defense is perhaps a lot more serious than that for people talking about the issue somewhere else.
/EDIT


Hi,

reading the last posts was refreshing, thanks.

Some comments: The debate is not heated, you can imagine me sitting here cool and defending my point of view in the same cool manner.

Voting right for women in Europe: Liechtenstein 1984.

Academics: I come from a non-academic background, and I do not see myself as someone more valuable than a mother without highschool graduate who does care well for her family -- just to give an example that is contrary to myself. I know that academics can be rude and brutal like non academics can be, respect and manners is not a matter of intelligence and school graduation. Still, it is easier for people with a certain education to defend themselves. And it is definitely easier for me to discuss this issue than it is for a woman who did not learn to argue and -- unfortunately may live in a suppressive environment that forces her just not to think about this matter. It is easier for me also because my husband and friends encourage this attitude. So I should not keep silent, and I remember those who really suffered because they fought for rights that I enjoy nowadays.

I defend this issue insistently, but neither heated nor without humour. I will reject the attitude of putting this into a corner of ridiculous "political correctness". It is just the matter of including half of humankind into language.

Best,
Maria

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kewms
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Fri Apr 20, 2007 11:39 pm Post

It's somewhat ironic for people to dismiss the issue of gender bias in language by claiming that only academic specialists care about it. After all, it was the (primarily male) academics who wrote the grammar books making "he" the default pronoun in the first place.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, "they" seems to be quite common in conversation, and is becoming more accepted in written materials as well. And it no longer seems strange to see either "he" or "she" used when the person referenced could be either. So perhaps there is some progress.

Katherine

Ti
Timotheus
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Sat Apr 21, 2007 5:09 am Post

Katherine,

Yes, it's true: male (and not "primarily male" but "exclusively male"!) academics wrote the grammar books making "he" the default pronoun. But they did so in a world in which female academics simply didn't exist; in which the literary production in the function of which these grammars were written talked about things (politics, philosophy and so on) with which women had absolutely nothing to do; in which it was even difficult to find a woman who could read and write. So if they had made a different choice (supposing such a thing could have come to their mind!), they would have made themselves absolutely ridiculous.

And does it no longer seem strange to use "she" when the person referenced could be either? Well, I politely disagree. Try to use a similar "she" at the market place, on the soccer pitch, at the beach: firstly people simply won't understand you; and as soon as they will have understood, the mocking and sneering will begin. And did you ever hear a male person use a similar "she"?
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kewms
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Sat Apr 21, 2007 1:35 pm Post

Timotheus wrote:Yes, it's true: male (and not "primarily male" but "exclusively male"!) academics wrote the grammar books making "he" the default pronoun. But they did so in a world in which female academics simply didn't exist; in which the literary production in the function of which these grammars were written talked about things (politics, philosophy and so on) with which women had absolutely nothing to do; in which it was even difficult to find a woman who could read and write. So if they had made a different choice (supposing such a thing could have come to their mind!), they would have made themselves absolutely ridiculous.


I'm not talking about the Dark Ages here, I'm talking about the standard textbooks used when I was in school. Since my grandmother was both an English PhD and a professor, grammar books based on the assumption that women couldn't read were already at least two generations out of date at that point.

And does it no longer seem strange to use "she" when the person referenced could be either? Well, I politely disagree. Try to use a similar "she" at the market place, on the soccer pitch, at the beach: firstly people simply won't understand you; and as soon as they will have understood, the mocking and sneering will begin. And did you ever hear a male person use a similar "she"?


As I said, "they" is much more common in conversation, and seems to be accepted by men and women alike. In written materials, yes I have seen "she" used by male authors.

Katherine

Ti
Timotheus
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Sat Apr 21, 2007 4:33 pm Post

In written materials? Really? Well, that makes me curious about the nature of these materials and especially about the nature of these males. But never mind, the good God created us all different, and some more different than others.
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alexwein
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Sun Apr 29, 2007 8:25 pm Post

polymathic wrote:alexwein, I don't believe this is exclusively an academic issue, but it is constrained to a narrow, privileged segment of the world population. Whether your family was keenly aware of this gender issue doesn't mean this is widespread. Clearly, your family was politically engaged. That too has become a minority of the population; political apathy is the norm once we leave privilege, in USA especially. A tiny percentage of the poorest American even vote.


Hi. Just got back from a week-long trip. My point is that language, used by everyone everywhere, shapes and is shaped by the way we think about things. It's not about who is aware of this. Maybe a narrow segment thinks about this issue or makes an issue of it, but that does not change that the pervasiveness of how language affects us and reflects inherent prejudices and ways of thinking that is embedded in language and therefore in thought. So whether one is poor or academic or politically aware is beside the point. The way language shapes us and we shape it is the point. So that's really what the issue is about. Many aspects of our thinking and speaking about social, scientific, or cultural issues have been taken for granted and brought to awareness by just a few--things like slavery, etc., which were deeply embedded in cultural and social practice until the issue started to be made by what was initially a minority.

I think gender preference is both insidious and prevelant and needs to be brought to light in all the ways it manifests. At its most basic, it is embedded in language. So it is totally valid to confront how this takes place and seek to change it.

Just my opinion. Alexandria
Inspiration is for amateurs...the rest of us just show up.
-Chuck Close
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