Monday, November 14, 2005

The dreaded "w" word

I just heard a radio interivew with a woman who heads a commission that will help determine how New Orleans is rebuilt. The host introduced her as the "chairman" of the commission, and when she came on the air, in an attempt to "do right," he asked her, "What do we call you, 'chairman' or 'chairperson'?"

Oh what lengths we will go to to avoid saying the word "woman," especially if it is part of a phrase having to do with authority. When radio and television hosts said stupid things like that in the 70's, it was bad enough. To do so now tells me all I need to know about how women have allowed our language--the most powerful cultural tool we have--to shut them out.

The guest was even worse. She said, "I get called different things. "Chairman" is like "humankind," so you can call me that.

No, it isn't. "Chairman" means that even if you are not a man, you must be referred to one if you happen to take on the "masculine" role of authority.

I want all male chairs to be called "chairwomen' and then I want to see how long it takes before they protest.

5 Comments:

One of my friends is a Baha'i. That's a religion that believes in the equality of the sexes, supposedly. Their prayers don't reflect this, though... of course, all the nouns and pronouns are male. Once in awhile I attend devotional events with this friend, and when I am asked to read a prayer out loud during the service, I always convert the nouns and pronouns to the female forms or to a gender-inclusive term, like "humankind." The language of gender is the language of equality, and until we take control of it in whatever context our ordinary daily existence offers us, the status quo will remain the same. That means everybody has to stop referring to groups of people as "guys" too. Author Sonia Johnson coined a great variation of that term for women: "Hey you gyns!"

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:55 PM  

It is my goal to say "Hey, you gals!" to every mixed gender group I run into for the rest of my life.

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