Re[2]: women and men (was Re: Hey, take it easy!)

Subject: Re[2]: women and men (was Re: Hey, take it easy!)
From: "Arlen P. Walker" <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 1994 12:39:00 -0500

OK, I'll take one shot at this as well. But one shot only.

I grew up reading the generic "he". And every mental actor I created
based on that generic "he" was male. I suspect the same was true for many
of my female classmates. This meant that every person who *did* anything
in the books we read was a boy or a man, unless we were presented with a
specific female character. It is not hard for me to believe that this
not-so-subtle discrimination could affect the social and emotional
development of children. It is also not hard to believe that that effect
would be more positive for boys and negative for girls.

Here's some reality. My daughter is growing up reading books and magazines where
the generic "he" is used often. She is also saddled with a reactionary father
(me) who insists the word "they" is plural and despises "(s)he," "s/he," "he or
she" and "sie/hir" as clumsy and unnecessary. She isn't having any trouble at
all envisioning herself in the place of the generic "he." Heck, she doesn't even
have a problem envsioning herself in the place of a decidedly non-generic "he"
(in the place of Jean-Luc Picard, for example). As for doing things, she can
hold her own in a cross-country race, beats her un-PC dad in bike races
frequently, and is a far more ruthless chessplayer against males than females.
All in all, it doesn't seem to have harmed her any. I'm afraid I feel that if
your self-esteem is so fragile that the generic "he" crushes your spirit, then
perhaps your biggest problem *isn't* linguistic.

As for PC-ness, I make my own salute to the intention by also using "she"
generically. It seems to me to be the only viable option. While "it" is the
singular genderless pronoun provided by English, it also carries a
depersonalizing connotation, so I won't use it about a person (except as an
insult -- not good, I know, but even *I* have my cranky days).

I think Nancy's question both underestimates the seriousness of the
problem and exaggerates the awkwardness of using "they" as a solution.

I find it difficult to imagine *underestimating* this particular problem. The
problem of sexual discrimination is serious. The problem of the homeless is
serious. Any seriousness seen in the problem of the generic "he" has its root
elsewhere, and would disappear like magic if that root cause were addressed.

What I don't understand is why we are perfectly willing to let "he"
represent both someone we know to be male ("I talked to Fred and he isn't
going") and someone of unknown gender ("when the player gets the blue
chip he should throw it at the spoon"), but we are so averse to letting a
word ("they") that is already perfectly comfortable including men and
women ("windborn garbage started to land on the wedding party and they
all ran for cover") handle that duty for the plural and the indefinite
singular ("someone shot at me, but they only managed to wound my cat").

My problem is with making a plural also serve as a singular. Yes, there are
precedents in the language (English is such a hodge-podge that it would be
nothing short of astounding if there *were* no precedents for it) but *they*
make me uncomfortable as well. I've not nearly the problem with the generic
"she" as you seem to have, and I'm perfectly willing to use it.

I know that
there are people on this list who still think that you should never split
an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition, and they will
gleefully create a twisted, contortionist's dream of sentence rather than
slap a hunk of one of these sacred cows on the barbecue of change

I know they're here, too. Just don't try to say everyone who opposes your usage
of "they" *is* one. That, as has been said before, is the sort of arrant
pedantry up with which I shall not put. (Incidentally, I love the metaphor!)

If you can accept the use of "chair" when the person's gender is unknown,
why can't you accept it at all occurrences? If it's a good word, it's a
good word. Not even close to a new low.

Here we agree. There's a long tradition in academe of using "chair." It doesn't
jar me in the least.

Have fun,

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.

Previous by Author: Re: Wherever you go--
Next by Author: Re: Macintosh System 7.5
Previous by Thread: Re: women and men (was Re: Hey, take it easy!)
Next by Thread: Re[3]: women and men (was Re: Hey, take it easy!)

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads