Women still have plenty of catching up to do before they have the same global and national footing as men.
Workplaces need to afford women the same opportunities for advancement as men.
Attitudes about rape and sexual violence, as well as women’s place in political and social life, require rethinking, especially in patriarchal countries with a tradition of male dominance.
Women’s access to medicine and doctors in impoverished areas must improve as well.
But waxing philosophic about whether gendered language perpetuates sexual stereotypes and discrimination is a waste of energy and time.
In today’s Oracle cover story, several male academics bemoan sexual discrimination in the English
They propose that words like mankind and freshman have a built-in bias against women (also a gender-offending word).
And though the Honors College, which now uses the term freshpeople instead of freshmen, means no harm, the change is just plain silly.
Using mankind to refer to a group of men or women, or freshman for incoming students, has no insidious influence on people’s attitude about gender – it’s merely a matter of convenience.
For instance, try gender-neutralizing the following sentences from The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham:
“Another cause of obscurity is that the writer is himself not sure of his meaning. He has a vague impression of what he wants to say … but has not formulated it in his mind … it is natural … he should not find expression a confused idea.”
Replacing his with his or her and he with he or she creates clutter and weakens the writing.
If English speakers could go back to the advent of the language, and many other languages as well, creating gender-neutral pronouns would be a good idea.
But belaboring it now is a waste of time.
Academics should focus on changing policies and attitudes, not trifling with words.
Changing freshman to freshpeople seems even more ridiculous in light of larger issues.
USF ranks sixth among national peers and fifth among Florida research universities in the percentage of women’s salary as compared to the male average, at 79.1 percent, according to a study by the Association of American Universites (AAU).
One year out of college, women working full time earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn, according to another study by the AAU.
And that’s to say nothing of the pervasiveness of rape and the exclusion of women from social and political discourse in some countries, including – to some extent – this one.
New policies will change this, but new words alone will not.