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Insane Quote of the Day

Feminists are trying to dictate to the rest of us what the masculine pronoun is allowed to mean. For me it means the same thing it meant to Milton, Shakespeare, Jane Austin[sic], Flannery O’Connor[,] and C. S. Lewis. Feminists want us to pretend they all meant to exclude women from practically everything but that is ridiculous. And they demand that we pretend that the traditional use of “man” for humankind MEANS males only. But it doesn’t and pretty much everybody knows it.

So you can demand that the meaning of words be changed. That does not mean the meanings will change. I suggest that you will find only pro-feminists (and people who haven’t thought much about it but are trying to be nice and agreeable) agreeing with you, which proves my point. It is not about communication, but ideology.

Of course the first thing to say about this is that the conflict is not about meaning, but about literary ethics. Sure we all know that folks mean humanity when they say mankind, but the question is why we should prefer to gender our gender-inclusive terms in the first place. What reason would justify talking about men and women in purely masculine terms? That is the question. Obviously.

How sadly hilarious the kind of thinking in this quote really is! What’s insidious about it is the way that it equates anything challenging the status quo with ideology: using masculine language to describe the human race as a whole is the norm; any challenge to that is ideological feminist totalitarianism.

Are we really fools enough to think that masculine-centric linguistic conventions are simply benign? What masquerades as a condemnation of “ideology” actually turns out to be an exercise of pure ideology itself. Certain contingent linguistic norms are enshrined as necessary, natural, and unquestionable. This is anything but the rejection of some new ideology. Rather it is merely the blind act of perpetuating an old one.

12 Comments

  1. Theophilus wrote:

    First, I agree.

    But sometimes the drive to cleanse texts of sexism (an indulgence in literary anachronism, from my perspective) can have really funny results, especially when the cleansing is being done ideologically. I ran across a hymnal published by the United Church of Canada (the quintessential mainline church) that made an effort to remove all gendered references not only to people, but also to God. However, in their edited version of Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, they eliminated masculine language for God but retained it for Satan.

    Colour me crazy, but I think defining Satan as male while de-gendering God is perhaps a wee touch too feminist?

    Speaking of which: What’s your take on avoiding gendered references to God? From what I’ve seen, that’s the next front in the gender-inclusivity project.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  2. Chris Donato wrote:

    Were Milton, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Flannery O’Connor and C.S. Lewis all unthinkingly mysogynistic? I don’t think so. That’s what’s frustrating about certain other ideologies. It’s one thing to point out and oppose the unhelpful nature of using “he/him,” etc., when the meaning is gender neutral; it’s another thing to ratchet that usage up to the level of cancerous (i.e., it is more than benign, but how much more?).

    Surely too, this quote is both the rejection of some new ideology and the perpetuation of an old one, whether or not this fella knows it.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Short answer is that I believe the name of God as Father, Son, and Spirit must never be messed with.

    However, I think its a good idea to avoid any gendered pronoun references to God whenever possible and accurate.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    To be clear, I’m not saying that anyone who’s used masculine-dominated language is a crazy misogynist, only that using gender specific terms to refer to gender-inclusive groups is unhelpful and incorrect.

    Though, in the case of C.S. Lewis there was certainly a strain of misogyny going on. See his remarks about women in The Four Loves, for example.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  5. Brad E. wrote:

    It’s always such a strange claim to make that “everyone knows” some fact or claim or way of living, being, or (in this case) speaking. I know all sorts of people who would wrinkle their foreheads at a sentence that persistently referred in general to a human person as “he.” At some point they would probably say, “Are we talking about a guy you know? Or just people in general?”

    More importantly, the issue of language and its intelligibility in Scripture and worship is a crucial question for the American context, in which the failing education system and deadly social pressures (like living in a crime-ridden ghetto) do not allow the church to presume that we can speak like Shakespeare or C.S. Lewis, precisely because our hearers (read: neighbors) do not speak or understand English spoken like British English 50 or 400 years ago. From one perspective, this might be understood as a deficiency; but the church is a missionary community, and this is our given context — is it actually a priority for us to ensure “the Queen’s English” is understood in our churches? I’d rather communicate the gospel in the way people actually speak, trusting that the example of Jesus and the prophets, not to mention the Koine Greek of most of the NT, is on my side.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  6. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    The strange logic of the status quo: It is not ideological to use “man” to refer to “humans” but it is ideological to use “humans” to refer to “humans.”

    I run into this on questions regarding vegan/vegetarianism. I am “ideological,” I am sometimes told. Well, that presumes that meat eating is not an ideology. “Ideological” is really just a way of saying that a person likes what they are doing and do not appreciate having that challenged. If you just keep it to yourself, you are not ideological, just quirky or eccentric.

    You can make the analysis you made on feminism on a number of issues that challenge the unquestioned, presumed norms. Pacifists are ideological (or “sectarian”), while warmongers are level-headed, etc.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  7. Chris Donato wrote:

    You were plenty clear that you aren’t broadly accusing folks, Halden. And certainly Lewis, out of that list, comes pretty close (Shakespeare just seems way too playful; Milton’s too much of a realist).

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  8. kim fabricius wrote:

    More disturbing, flip through almost any textbook (K-12) used in the public school system, and you will find exactly the same total surrender to an agenda that was initiated by the radical feminists but which found its way (as homosexual marriage is slowly doing) into the mainstream.

    The parenthesis, the parenthesis, the little whispering after-thought of a parenthesis suggests just who is being ideological here.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Exactly.

    I also like how this is so subtly displayed in the explicit use of the slippery slope argument:

    I myself for 20 years believed that we should use inclusive language when talking about humans but leave the biblical pattern of language about God unchanged. But it now appears that as soon as you give ground in one area a new front opens up and so I now think my former belief is an unstable compromise. I know that many Evangelicals take this position in good conscience, but I doubt they will satisfy the liberals for long.

    In other words, there is no actual argument against using inclusive language for humans except that people who do so tend to do all this other stuff that we don’t like. Thus the merits (literary, theological, whatever) of using gender-accurate language aren’t even up for discussion. The one thing that doesn’t matter here is the truth. The only thing that matters is being the polar opposite of whatever a “liberal” happens to be.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  10. Hill wrote:

    I’m sure there is some sort of Schmittian logic at work.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink
  11. I really would prefer to use man as the gender-neutral word and use wereman as the masculine word, the counterpart to woman as the feminine word. Alas.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  12. Nate W wrote:

    I wholeheartedly agree. “Man” as a gender-neutral word is far better than all the other silly inventions we’ve come up trying to become politically correct. “Congressman” is just a better word than the comical “congressperson,” and the phrase “God and Man” strikes a much more personal note than a cold and inhuman phrase like “God and humankind.” And that is why I choose to continue using “man” in its original gender-neutral sense, because it just plain works better; readopting “wereman” or “waepman” is a much better strategy for making language more gender-equal. Why try to forcibly change a whole host of words when you could accomplish the same thing in a better way by just reverting one word back to its older form?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

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