Will we ever change?

Joan Beck

Taking the sexism out of the English language is almost as difficult as integrating the corporate boardroom. Semantically, men have managed to manipulate, maneuver, and manufacture words so it's mandatory to talk as if mankind were exclusively masculine and civilization entirely manmade.

Many of the proposals for desexing the language and giving women a fair semantic shake have spawned such awkwardnesses as "chairperson" and such silliness as ending prayers with "A-women."

English, for example, has no bisexual singular pronoun. "He" is customarily used - "each person cast his vote" - as if women did not exist or did not count. Proposals to say "he or she" and "he/she" at every instance slow a sentence to a stutter.

The magazine Today's Education offered no real help with its recent suggestion that a synthetic word "ne" be created as a non-sexist pronoun substitute for "he" when the word was not being used specifically to indicate a male. "Nis" would replace the possessive "his" and "hers" and "ner" would become the objective form instead of "him" and "her."

Of course every writer and editor will have to decide for nerself about ne. But it's doubtful how soon we'll find ne, nis and ner in nis dictionary.

A group of editors at McGraw-Hill Book company, however, have just developed some guidelines intended to take much of the sexism out of the language and to include women, grammatically, in the human race. Fortunately, the good intentions of the McGraw-Hill people also made good semantic sense.

"Man" and words derived from it should no longer be used as a substitute for "humanity" and "people," according to the McGraw-Hill editors. "Man's achievements" should become "human achievements" and "the best man for the job" should be "the best person [or candidate] for the job." "Manmade" should be changed to "artificial," "synthetic," or "manufactured." "Manpower" should become "human energy," workers," or "workforce."

Job titles and descriptions should not end in the word "man" but should be changed to nonsexist designations, according to McGraw-Hill guidelines. "Congressman" should be replaced by "member of Congress" or "representative." "Policeman" should become "police officer" and "businessman" should be switched to "business executive" or "business manager." "Foreman" should be replaced by "supervisor" and "chairman" by "presiding officer" or "leader."

The same principle holds true for words which indicate female stereotypes as well. "Housewife" is ruled out. "Homemaker" is in."Cleaning woman" becomes "housekeeper." In stores, purchases are made and protests launched by "consumers," not "housewives." "Coed" is replaced by "student."

The problem of what singular pronoun to use to indicate either a male or a female the McGraw-Hill editors solve by avoiding the grammatical necessity whenever possible.Instead of saying, "The average American drinks his coffee black," the sentence should be reworded to read "The average American drinks black coffee."

Words describing female physical features - "buxom blonde," "striking red-head," "matronly-looking woman" - are not to be used, according to the McGraw-Hill editors, unless men are treated similarly.

And women are to get a chance, too, at some of the more valued personal characteristics and emotions usually reserved for males. They now are to have equal opportunity to be bold, assertive, strong,
smart, active, brave, independent, competent, and successful and to think logically, solve problems, and make decisions. Men, in McGraw-Hill books, are to share equally in gentleness, compassion, sensitivity, quietness, immaturity, and fearfulness.

The new editorial guidelines aren't really difficult. All you have to do is remember that women are people, too.


CONTACT David Dismore: Equality48@aol.com

About Joan Beck

Having received her bachelorís and masterís degrees from Northwesternís Medill School of Journalism in 1945 and 1947, Beck has spent most of her professional life on staff at the Chicago Tribune. As a feature writer from 1961-1972, she pioneered coverage in medicine, education, sociology and contemporary life. She was the first woman at that newspaper to be in charge of a daily section, the Tempo section, and also to join the editorial board. She has written four books on parenting and children, was the recipient of many awards and has been inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. Northwestern honored her with the Alumni Merit Award in 1965.