Letters to the Editor
RE: “Political correctness remains he said/she said”
Thursday’s editorial, “Political correctness remains he said/she said,” was a glaring example of how patriarchal ideas and sexist norms are deeply embedded even among members of this generation. The author argues that while women “still have a lot of catching up to do before they have the same … footing as men,” the attempts made by academics such as the dean of USF’s Honors College, Dr. Stuart Silverman, to abate male-centered language are “a waste of energy and time.”
Dr. Silverman adopted the term freshperson to replace the traditional use of freshman when referring to a first-year college student because, as he told the Oracle, “there is a difference between saying he and he or she.” The author, however, regards such actions as “just plain silly,” and ever-flippantly reminds us that “waxing philosophic about whether gendered language perpetuates sexual stereotypes and discrimination” does nothing to actually change it.
While the author so casually mentions that attitudes about “women’s place[s] in political and social life require rethinking, especially in patriarchal countries with a tradition of male dominance,” the fact that gender-biased language is a direct product of said dominance is utterly neglected. The author asserts that using words like mankind and freshmen to refer to groups comprised of males and females has “no insidious influence” on people’s perceptions of gender, but is rather “merely a matter of convenience.”
Similarly, the author goes on to argue that if English speakers could go back and change male-centered terms to universal ones, we would, but since we cannot, “belaboring it now is” – yet again – “a waste of time.”
Clearly, though, some people – like Dr. Silverman – are quite capable of enacting such reforms. Suggesting that society is justified in falling back on chauvinistic traditions – including those present in the English language -and supposing that change is not possible inextricably impacts perceptions of gender: If attempts to combat prejudices are constantly rebuked on the grounds that maintaining the status quo is simply easier and “more convenient,” those prejudices will continue to linger.
The words, of course, are not the central problem, but rather one of many implications of a wider gender-bias that permeates much of our everyday lives. The author asserts that “academics should focus on changing policies and attitudes,” yet deems attempts to remove sexism from our very vernacular “ridiculous in light of larger issues.” How interesting: It is somehow possible to refashion the way women and women’s rights are regarded at large without even examining the patriarchy underlying everyday exchange?
No, replacing terms such as mankind and freshman with gender-neutral alternatives is not going to eliminate gender bias or reverse the centuries of misogyny that shaped human development. However, exercising a critical eye and recognizing seemingly innocuous instances of sexism is a seminal step in combating pervasive and backhanded prejudices against women.
junior, Honors College
creative writing/journalism major