Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by glorybee » Sat Jan 03, 2015 6:35 pm

Allison, I have no problems with any of your answers, and your note about the redundancy in the last example is legitimate, too. Well done!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by swfdoc1 » Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:21 pm

Jan,

I agree that this is an important issue. I taught it at the graduate level for 10 years. I also fully appreciate the things you said you did not want to get into. So, I will only touch on one of those tangentially in order to explain the reason that I would tweak one point in your lesson.

I think it is important to understand this point for a reason that you mentioned in your lesson: some publishers are agnostic about gender neutral language and others don’t want it. When this is the case, authors need to understand the proper grammar related to this issue.

The push for gender neutral language is absolutely related to the issues you identified: political correctness, feminism, etc. However, folks should realize—regardless of whether one supports these agendas or opposes them—they are based on misunderstandings or outright dishonesty. The push for gender neutral language is usually stated in terms of objecting to the use of masculine pronouns. But masculine pronouns are not at issue, as explained below.

Most people believe there are only three genders in the English language: Masculine, feminine, and neuter; illustrated in the third person singular pronouns by he, she, and it. This is incorrect. There are four genders in the English language, as in most languages: Masculine, feminine, neuter, and common; illustrated by he, she, it, and he. Thus, the objections to “he” are actually counter-productive. They have virtually destroyed English’s gender neutral pronoun.

Things have gotten so bad that it’s hard to find a modern grammar that shows the common gender (although they exist), yet they were quite common, if not standard, as late as the 1970s.

Searching this issue on the Internet produces several kinds of results worth mentioning: Websites and digital copies of old grammars that accurately teach all four genders; websites that honestly address the history of the development of four gender in English and the misguided attacks on “he” as our “common” pronoun; and websites and books that mistakenly or dishonestly review the history to paint “he” as masculine only.

By now, you can probably guess the point of your lesson that I would tweak:
glorybee wrote: • English doesn’t really have a gender neutral pronoun that works in sentences like this:

If anybody wants to know where the surprise party is, tell ____________ to text me.
It does: the correct fill-in-the-blank here is the COMMON “him.”

However, to come full circle, I agree with you that most publishers will reject this. Also, there many other times when it is just foolish to dig in on this issue. To take a couple of examples from my “world,” a lawyer should not dig in on this issue if he ( :D) knows that the issue is important to the judge he ( :D ) is in front of—he should not put client interests at stake over this. Or if one is a student in college or grad school, don’t buck your program’s style guide if it requires gender neutral language.

So, what I will say is only for those who are at liberty to avail themselves of it.

The common gender is properly used in two situations: those in which the writer knows that both males and females are involved and those in which the writer does not know the sex of the person being mentioned.

Your example about the surprise party falls into the first category (assuming the writer knows that both males and females have been invited).

Here’s an example of the second category: The club elected a president, but I don’t know what his name is.

Again, neither of the pronouns in question is masculine; they are both common. For folks who have the liberty to use the common gender, it’s important to do it correctly. Maybe this will help.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by glorybee » Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:32 pm

swfdoc1 wrote:
Here’s an example of the second category: The club elected a president, but I don’t know what his name is.

Again, neither of the pronouns in question is masculine; they are both common. For folks who have the liberty to use the common gender, it’s important to do it correctly. Maybe this will help.
Or you could just write: The club elected a president, but I don't know who.

I totally understand your point about common pronouns--but since very, very few people are aware of this distinction, and since the common pronoun looks exactly like the masculine one--why not avoid confusion? PC and feminism aside, your sentence could start a conversation that would go like this:

Person A: The club elected a president, but I don’t know what his name is.
Person B: It was Felicity, not a guy, you dunderhead.
A: That was a common pronoun, not a masculine one. Don't call me a dunderhead.
B: Well, it sure sounded masculine.
A: Common.
B: Well, so are you.

Person B is being unkind. But Person A could help Person B out by avoiding the confusing circumstance in the first place.

[You know I'm being a pill, I hope.]
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by swfdoc1 » Sun Jan 04, 2015 1:51 am

Yes, I know you're “being a pill.” I appreciate your humor. As you and I know, but as your new students and perhaps even some of your long-term students may not know; you and I have a long-standing friendship, and I have a long-standing propensity to go too deep in my comments about your lessons.

To repeat, my comments are directed to the only point with which I disagreed, and my comments were directed only towards those folks whose publishers were agnostic about or hostile towards gender neutral language. BTW, I also understand that you understand my point and that you only presented the lesson the way you did for simplicity’s sake.

Your counterpoint is well-taken vis-a-vis those publishers who are agnostic. Thus, my comments are best directed towards those whose publishers are hostile.

Even with such publishers, your suggestions would avoid many problems. But not with all publishers (or other (primarily academic) gatekeepers). I know from first-hand experience that some of your suggestions would not sit well with such folks.

I guess my point was that WITH SUCH PUBLISHERS/GATEKEEPERS, we all need to move into the category of the “very, very few people [who] are aware of this distinction.”

But let me say this to your students: if what I said doesn’t apply to your situation or if you are confused by anything I wrote, follow what Jan said. Hers is the best generic advice; mine is highly specific advice.
Steve
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by WriterFearNot » Mon Jan 05, 2015 12:42 am

Jan, thank you for this lesson! I appreciate the perspective, and the instruction. But since I'm a bit of a rebel, too, I skipped doing the homework. Instead, I have a comment and a question.

Comment: It seems like a shame to convert "mankind" into a gender neutral term. Isn't mankind, like, iconic or something. And aren't women already included in this term? I tried researching the definition but (ugh) there are two opposing definitions. One includes men and women and one includes only men. In my humble opinion, the sentence "All of mankind is waiting for peace on earth" can't be improved by any replacement of the word 'mankind'. Neither of the gender neutral alternatives come close to conveying the power of that original sentence.

Having said that, in all of the other examples given, I can see the improvement with the gender neutral alternatives. I'll definitely be referring back to this lesson when I'm writing nonfiction.

My question: I know Longshoremen who are men and women. But I have no idea what to call the women (besides, you know... mankind). Can you tell me what to call Longshoremen who are women? I've seen "Longshorewomen" used, but that sounds funny to me.

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by everlearning » Mon Jan 05, 2015 4:16 am

Jan, It's a pleasure to read your lessons, view the responses, and learn with others.

Just knowing everyone thinks differently and will rearrange sentences according to their thought patterns is intriguing.

My answers to some of the “gender neutral language“ corrections may be repetitious from what you have previously seen, however, I will try my hand at this. They are:

1. …to boldly go where no man has gone before
…to boldly go where no one has gone before

2. A two-year-old usually clings to his mother in unfamiliar places.
Two-year-olds usually cling to their mothers in unfamiliar places.

3. The stewardess wrote a complaint letter to the chairman of the union.
A letter of complaint was written to the head of the union by a flight attendant.

4. The student should raise his hand if he needs to leave the room during the test.
Students should raise their hands when needing to leave the room during the test.

5. The good news of the gospel is for all mankind.
The good news of the gospel is for everyone.

6. Anyone who is unhappy with his study partner should notify the professor about him or her.
Those who are unhappy with a study partner should notify their professor.

Cathrine Huff

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by glorybee » Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:35 am

WriterFearNot wrote:Jan, thank you for this lesson! I appreciate the perspective, and the instruction. But since I'm a bit of a rebel, too, I skipped doing the homework. Instead, I have a comment and a question.

Comment: It seems like a shame to convert "mankind" into a gender neutral term. Isn't mankind, like, iconic or something. And aren't women already included in this term? I tried researching the definition but (ugh) there are two opposing definitions. One includes men and women and one includes only men. In my humble opinion, the sentence "All of mankind is waiting for peace on earth" can't be improved by any replacement of the word 'mankind'. Neither of the gender neutral alternatives come close to conveying the power of that original sentence.
And this is what many anti-gender neutral folks would say. It's purely a matter of opinion in this case, and you should feel free to use 'mankind' if that feels better to you. You'll want to keep in mind both your audience and your publisher. If your audience consists of many people of a younger generation to whom 'mankind' seems to omit half of the world's population, you might consider an alternative word. Similarly, if your publisher prefers "humanity" or some other synonym--you know what to do. But if 'mankind' is what you're ultimately comfortable with, go with that.
WriterFearNot wrote:Having said that, in all of the other examples given, I can see the improvement with the gender neutral alternatives. I'll definitely be referring back to this lesson when I'm writing nonfiction.

My question: I know Longshoremen who are men and women. But I have no idea what to call the women (besides, you know... mankind). Can you tell me what to call Longshoremen who are women? I've seen "Longshorewomen" used, but that sounds funny to me.

Theresa
You could use 'dockworker' or 'stevedore.'
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by glorybee » Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:43 am

everlearning wrote:
1. …to boldly go where no man has gone before
…to boldly go where no one has gone before

2. A two-year-old usually clings to his mother in unfamiliar places.
Two-year-olds usually cling to their mothers in unfamiliar places.

3. The stewardess wrote a complaint letter to the chairman of the union.
A letter of complaint was written to the head of the union by a flight attendant.

4. The student should raise his hand if he needs to leave the room during the test.
Students should raise their hands when needing to leave the room during the test.

5. The good news of the gospel is for all mankind.
The good news of the gospel is for everyone.

6. Anyone who is unhappy with his study partner should notify the professor about him or her.
Those who are unhappy with a study partner should notify their professor.

Cathrine Huff
I'll just mention #3 and #6 here--the others are just fine.

In #3, you did a fine job of substituting the appropriate gender neutral terms, but in rearranging the sentence the way you did, you put it in passive voice [was written...by]. This construction is often frowned upon, and it doesn't really improve the sentence.

In #6, you have the same problem with number that has been mentioned in a few other responses here--a better rewrite would be

Those who are unhappy with their study partners should notify their professor.

In fact, your sentence has a slightly different meaning; if I were to read that sentence in a course syllabus, I might think it meant something like

Those who are unhappy with [the requirement that they must have] a study partner should notify the professor.

Thanks for the kind words--they mean a lot to me.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by WriterFearNot » Mon Jan 05, 2015 5:53 pm

glorybee wrote: And this is what many anti-gender neutral folks would say. It's purely a matter of opinion in this case, and you should feel free to use 'mankind' if that feels better to you. You'll want to keep in mind both your audience and your publisher. If your audience consists of many people of a younger generation to whom 'mankind' seems to omit half of the world's population, you might consider an alternative word. Similarly, if your publisher prefers "humanity" or some other synonym--you know what to do. But if 'mankind' is what you're ultimately comfortable with, go with that.
"You'll want to keep in mind both your audience and your publisher."

That has been one of my biggest struggles as a writer...trying to remember that I'm writing for people who exist outside of my head.

Thanks again, Jan.

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by everlearning » Tue Jan 06, 2015 2:18 am

Thank you Jan, I really appreciate your input.

I am just beginning to find the importance of a critique, and will continue learning from you and other writers.

I really enjoy seizing the information from your previous lessons and will continue to follow the wisdom you set forth.

Cathrine

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:02 pm

Jan, thanks for a great lesson.

Steve, your posts are most informative.

I know this thread pertains mainly to nonfiction. But even in fiction, issues might arise. Would some readers, and possibly some publishers, expect that 21st century gender-neutral language be used in retro fiction?

In the 1930s, women were either Mrs. or Miss. As far as I know, the term “Ms.” wasn’t in use. An unmarried woman was “Miss Jones.” In my view, using “Ms. Jones” would be an anachronism.

Likewise, I don’t think anyone in the 1930s would have said, “She is a waiter.” Or “Bette Davis is a famous actor.”

Which brings me to my next question. Why should the masculine form be the default? If it is okay to say, “She is a waiter.” why is it not okay to say, “She is a waitress." let alone "He is a waitress”? Doesn’t using the masculine form only, imply that masculine is better?

And why is “Mrs. Jones” considered okay but not “Miss Jones”? Doesn’t omitting the term "Miss" but not "Mrs." imply that marriage is the preferred state for a woman?

I guess what I am saying is, there seems to be a lot of hypocrisy in 21st century gender-neutral language. :(

Cinnamon Bear

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by glorybee » Wed Jan 07, 2015 3:09 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote: I know this thread pertains mainly to nonfiction. But even in fiction, issues might arise. Would some readers, and possibly some publishers, expect that 21st century gender-neutral language be used in retro fiction?

In the 1930s, women were either Mrs. or Miss. As far as I know, the term “Ms.” wasn’t in use. An unmarried woman was “Miss Jones.” In my view, using “Ms. Jones” would be an anachronism.

Likewise, I don’t think anyone in the 1930s would have said, “She is a waiter.” Or “Bette Davis is a famous actor.”
This is precisely why I said that this lesson didn't apply to fiction. I can't conceive of a publisher of fiction who would prefer anachronistic use of gender neutral terms for titles of characters or designations of their jobs. It would be wrong on many levels, just as you've said here.
Cinnamon Bear wrote:Which brings me to my next question. Why should the masculine form be the default? If it is okay to say, “She is a waiter.” why is it not okay to say, “She is a waitress." let alone "He is a waitress”? Doesn’t using the masculine form only, imply that masculine is better?

And why is “Mrs. Jones” considered okay but not “Miss Jones”? Doesn’t omitting the term "Miss" but not "Mrs." imply that marriage is the preferred state for a woman?
These are some of the logical arguments for gender-neutral language.
Cinnamon Bear wrote:I guess what I am saying is, there seems to be a lot of hypocrisy in 21st century gender-neutral language. :(
Perhaps you can help me out a bit with this. I'm not sure that I'm seeing where the hypocrisy is. By your own statement, using only the masculine form implies that masculine is better, and using a woman's title to indicate her marital status implies that marriage is superior to not-marriage. Gender neutral language gets rid of such implications--in my view, that's the exact opposite of hypocrisy. So I'm not clear where you're seeing hypocrisy--can you clarify at all?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by KatKane » Wed Jan 07, 2015 4:22 pm

I do have a question around Scripture and gender neutral language. Are some translations more gender neutral in their language than others?

I came up with the same answers to the questions as everyone else. Thanks for a very thought-provoking lesson. :bow
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by glorybee » Wed Jan 07, 2015 4:46 pm

KatKane wrote:I do have a question around Scripture and gender neutral language. Are some translations more gender neutral in their language than others?

I came up with the same answers to the questions as everyone else. Thanks for a very thought-provoking lesson. :bow
Presented without comment (I just used a Google search, since this is not an area that I'm expert in):

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/n ... e-1.121781

http://kwing.christiansonnet.org/course ... eutral.htm

http://www.bible-researcher.com/links12.html

And that's probably enough links for now, especially since there are links within links for at least one of those links. :D

I'm pretty sure that Steve Fitschen might have something to say about gender neutral Bibles, but that discussion might be best moved to the Theology forum. I try to avoid getting too theological in the "Be a Better Writer" topics, as theology is definitely not my forte, and it's off-topic here, at any rate.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE

Post by swfdoc1 » Wed Jan 07, 2015 6:28 pm

Jan,

You're right that I've looked at this issue on several occasions and have some thoughts. Unfortunately (or fortunately :D), time does not permit me to address the issue, either here or in a new thread. Your links (and links within the links) address the issue from both pro and con points of view and many of them represent the work of some of the most important scholars in the field, so I simply commend them to folks.
Steve
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