Is the word manhole a sexist term? Maybe it is, but it won’t change soon as no one can come up with a better label. In the state of Washington, however, 40,000 words have been abolished from government documents to comply with a bill signed by Governor Jay Inslee. It bans gender-based language when crafting laws. So, fisherman becomes a fisher, penmanship becomes handwriting, clergyman is clergy and a journeyman plumber is now a journey-level plumber. (“Washington State gets rid of sexist language,” by Claudine Zap, Yahoo News, 7/4/13)
The French are ahead of Washington state when it comes to language. They’ve already banned mademoiselle because it forces a woman to admit her marital status. Ditto for maiden name, a phrase as arcane as chastity belt. Nine other states are lining up to join the French and Washington. (Ibid)
I confess feeling conflicted about these changes. I’m a feminist and know words do matter. But they matter to a writer, too. And as a writer, injecting too many pronouns like him or her or he and she into a sentence is bulky.
When I began writing my blogs, I made a decision to use the masculine form of pronouns as it was the most common. No one has ever called me on it. But, of late, I’ve yielded to the he/she format. I might as well get used to the gender-neutral trend. It’s creeping into birth names too. Goodbye Tiffany. Hello Charlie, Brandon, and Mickey.
As a writer, I despair in this last trend, also. How do I pitch to a publisher when I don’t know if Charlie is a male or female? Gone are salutations like Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Instead, I’m forced to write with stiff formality like someone chiseling letters on a gravestone: Dear Charlie Androgynous.
I have no room to complain, I know, having brought these dilemmas upon myself. It began when I burned my bra and started wearing pants.
(Pink manhole cover courtesy of headrush.typepad.com)