by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
December 20, 2006
LANGUAGE HAS A HAIRY CHEST
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- Even the language fails women.
Even the great books, sagging on my library shelves, fail me personally, and all women collectively.
Even my writer's passion for word bridges between
minds is crippled by a language that renders women
"And God, he... ." "And mankind, they ... ." "If a man would be a man, he must first be a non-conformist." "When the last man is left standing ... ." "All men are created equal." And et cetera into infinity.
We can get to the Moon and design a daddy bomb of mass destruction, but we can't come up with a pronoun that includes half of the world's population - women.
No, I am not picking feminist nits off sleeping chauvinistic dogs. And yes, I know. Things, they are a-changing. But when was the last time you heard a serious editor/publisher, professional writer, or anyone with an IQ over 2 address the "language problem"?
Years ago when serious feminists made an issue of the piddling pronoun, there were many concerned male editors and publishers who scratched their heads, acknowledged the unfairness, tried to resolve the subtle but deadly problem, sighed, and gave up.
Recently, an editor, whose work I consistently find free of gender bias, did the he/she thing in a reference to God. My feminist feet didn't touch the floor for hours.
Once, in Seminole County, Fla., my "enlightened" male friends romped on me verbally regarding the she-he pronoun issue. They told me I was making much ado about very little.
"Elizabeth", they said in unison. "the word 'mankind' includes both men and women. The 'he' of the Bible, and in other great books, includes women. 'You guys' means both men and women. You are straining at gnats. It's not that big a deal." Okay, you girls. Uh, I mean, you guys. If it's not that big a deal, for the next 6,000 years, let's switch the pronouns. "Our Mother, who art in heaven." Let's use "she" as in "Male and female, created she them, and on the seventh day she (God) rested." Let's use "woman" as in "All women are created equal." And "If a woman would be a woman she must first be a non-conformist." And when I walk into a room full of men I get to say "Are you girls ready for lunch?" Lest you think I am concocting female mountains where there are only male molehills, let's look at just one dastardly effect of the piddling pronoun:
Numbers 23:19, King James version of the Bible: "God is not a man, that he should lie."
Doesn't that just reek havoc in the pantry of your mind? You've got a zinger of a statement: "God is not a man," followed by the pronoun "he," thereby rendering the entire statement grammatically frivolous.
Let's flip it. "God is not a woman, that she should lie." Why not "God is not a man or a woman for Essence is gender-less." Can "Light", "Love" and "Spirit" (bibical definitions of God) be reduced to gender? I think not.
Its the piddling pronoun, good people. We have no gender-less pronoun that includes both sexes.
There are as many ways of discounting women as there are women in the world. We get it in the home, in the market place, in politics, in medicine, in the arts, and in that gargantuan, most destructive discounter of all, religion.
But if you want one sure-fire, guaranteed effective, second-class-citizen maker, do it with language.
I once took Emerson's "Essays" and marked through several pages, writing "she" above all the "he's", and "womankind' above all the ceaseless "mankind" references. If you like Emerson and can stand a migraine, do the exercise for at least three pages, then go back and read it out loud. Be prepared for a mind-altering plunge into Awareness 101.
Am I suggesting that men sat around in a circle thousands of years ago and said "Hmmm. Let's see now. We've got to design a language and we've got to make sure women don't get any bright ideas. With this new thing called language we don't have to scratch pictures on the walls of our caves anymore, We now have the ability to write laws, record history, issue written commandments by which all men should live. Let's be sure the language is designed to serve, exclusively, the needs of men. That means no distinguishing pronoun that includes both sexes. Women must not be allowed to think for one second that the Great Creator made us all equal. How does this sound: 'In the beginning was the word, and the word was written by men, to men, for men that man might reign long upon the Earth.' Oh. Let's be sure we make the Great Creator a 'he'. If there's anything the world doesn't need, it's a female God."
What I am suggesting is that male power is perpetuated by a piddling pronoun that excludes women.
Somebody designed every language. Somebody knew the power of exclusion. It obviously wasn't the excluded.
In my writer's world of words, I am forced to be exclusive in order to be grammatically correct. I have no pronoun that includes both my sister and my brother. I have no dictionary that suggests an inclusive term, no thesaurus that recommends an inclusive synonym.
But I have a great hope that one day the daughters of my daughters will say to their daughters: "No, noney. We won't buy that book. It's one of the stupid ancient ones written when the language did not include women. Here. Take this one. It's some old poems written for you, about you, by your great- grandmother.
The first one begins, "Never forget, little daughter of the universe, that you are fearlessly and wonderfully made."
Elizabeth T. Andrews is a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel now living in Cartersville, Ga., where she writes poetry. She can be contacted at email@example.com or P.O. Box 816, Cartersville, GA 30120.