[no subject]

From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 11:30:55 EST


Date: 30 November 1994, 11:00:23 EST
To: techwr-l%OSUVM1.bitnet at cunyvm.cuny.edu
Subject: Re: women and men

Gary Beason writes:
>I used to think it was a minor thing to argue, using "he/she" or being aware o
>other such languages uses. I won't go into the details of my epiphany except
>to say my mother had credit problems when my father died; the
>accounts were in his name, as in "mr. and Mrs. Dewey Beason."

>This legal instance illuminates the significance of these seemingly minor
>offenses, Dave: the woman is implied.

I'm still uncertain on this issue. Certainly your example illustrates a
case of direct discrimination arising from language use. But I also think
your example is perhaps misleadingly clear, compared to the more general
problem of gendered pronouns. I am unfamiliar with the medical writing
situation you cited: was the use of "he" instead of "she" responsible for
the attention payed to male anatomy? I would have thought other cultural
factors played a larger part, but as I said, I don't know the history here.

Personally, I write to avoid the whole situation (which is what corporate
guidelines require in any case). However, I am not convinced that the issue
has the profound sociological impact that has been attributed to it. I am
convinced it has _some_ impact, but I'm not sure how much. The lack of a
gendered pronoun in Japanese, for example, doesn't appear to have had profound
effects on the role of women in Japanese culture.

When I'm writing casually, I just use "they" for the third person indefinite.
It's a usage with some history, and after all, if distinctions of number
are all that important, why did we ditch "thou" in favour of "you" (the second
person plural)? When I'm writing professionally, thank heavens, the issue
rarely comes up.

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.

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