In case you weren't aware, you can't win with political correctness. Things that were called feminist a few years ago are considered reactionary already. For that matter, even the "pink pussy hats" that represented the Women's March have been ruled "problematic" as not all women necessarily have vaginas and those that do don't necessarily have "pink" vaginas. In short, what was a symbol of feminism a few months ago has already been deemed by the court of public opinion as both racist and transphobic.
If you haven't guessed yet, this week for "Everything Is Problematic" we'll be talking about "gendered language" and "ungendering." By the way, "ungendering" despite showing up as a misspelled word regardless of what spelling or grammar check tool I use has been featured in such prestigious publications as New Yorker and The Atlantic, so it must
be a real word.
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For that matter, even the Vagina Monologues has been cited as "problematic" due to its implicit transphobia and reinforcement of the belief that all women have vaginas and all people with vaginas are women. Eastern Michigan University canceled a student performance of the play last November due to it's "problematic" nature.
Scott Reeder mentioned that example and another case related to gendered language that is "problematic" from a Constitutional point of view.
I was thinking about this Saturday when I read that California State Senator and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, announced that “gender neutral” pronouns will be used during committee hearings.
Jackson said that new committee rules recognize California’s designation of “non-binary” as a gender. The words “he and she” will be barred from usage in the committee room. Instead, all people will be referred to as “they.”
Arwa Mahdawi at The Guardian warns that, as far as gender and language are concerned, we "have gone from making an important point to reinforcing the differences between men and women."
Much of this is feminism’s fault, naturally. There has been more scrutiny of everyday sexism; words such as manspreading and manterrupting simply give a name to behavior that was taken for granted before. There has also been more discussion of women in the workplace, leading to a rise in supposedly empowering labels such as girlboss, a term popularised by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of online retailer Nasty Gal. In 2014, Amoruso wrote a bestselling memoir/self-help book for entrepreneurially minded millennial women called #GIRLBOSS and the word entered the popular vernacular – it is now a Netflix show.
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Language, Mahdawi tells us, can reinforce social norms and "ungendering language is an important part of solving sexism." She makes the argument that sexism and gender disparity are "implicitly coded" into language which, itself, is "man made." As for whether or not sexism is coded into language or not, there are divergences along these lines as well. Some feminsts have argued for years that the English language is evidence of patriarchal bias in language, unfortunately for them, linguistics fairly well debunks the idea
that: wo man, fe male, hu man, per son and similar examples are proof that it's a man's world, baby.
Old English and Proto-Germanic roots brought us seo/heo for she and he, and wifman and werman for woman/man. The word human comes from Proto-Indo-European "ghomon" meaning earthly being, as opposed to a god or other spiritual being. "Person," of course, comes from the Etruscan word that would join English by way of the Latin word for mask. If you read a play, you'll generally see the "Dramatis personæ" or "masks of the drama" before Act I to explain the cast of characters and a bit about them.
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Gender-neutral language has split France's Académie Française as well. In 2017, the Académie called non-gendered language an "aberration" that could put the entire French language in "mortal danger."
I was always attracted to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that argues that language indelibly marks the way a person perceives reality. Unfortunately, in the intervening two decades or so since I first came across the theory many linguists and psychologists have rejected the theory due to issues with his research.
Regardless of whether you believe this or not, the issue of gendered language differs from language to language. Portuguese and French, for example, are highly gendered language that wouldn't easily be coaxed into a neutral form without fundamentally uprooting the language as it exists now. Latin, on the other hand, despite having masculine and feminine forms (murus, the Latin word meaning wall, for instance, is masculine for whatever reason).
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Point is, the purity spiral affects folks on all sides of the spectrum and as more ruptures and fissures create new groupings and sub-groupings, it will be harder and harder to please anyone regardless of their politics. Some folks who are all for getting rid of "gender stereotypes" are equally opposed to "gender neutral clothing" as well.
In short, whatever is "woke" this week will certainly be problematic given enough time.