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Re: He/she, Racism, and the Boundless Hipocrisy of the L
- To: Alan Dove <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Re: He/she, Racism, and the Boundless Hipocrisy of the L
- From: "Jan M. Hovden" <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 3 Dec 1996 19:22:32 -0500 (EST)
I find your post to be particularly troublesome for a number of reasons.
I will answer the line by line below. But as a macro level response I
find it appalling that you choose to deal with issues of sexism by
belittling people's responses. This is especially troubling because you
try to mix the issues of racism and sexism and implicitly argue that we
shouldn't be worrying about these little problems of sexism when racism
exists. I agree with you that racism is a serious problem and one that
needs to be addressed by our community, but so is sexism. In case you
haven't noticed, most of the people who are successful in debate happen
to have male genitalia. On to the line by line.
On Tue, 3 Dec 1996, Alan Dove wrote:
> The hipocrisy on this listserv would be funny if it weren't so sad. Let's
> review a few recent events:
> 1. Mark Whitney from SUNY Morrisville posted a message explaining that
> SUNY(M) was leaving CEDA, at least for the time being. The two main
> reasons were the disconnectedness of the activity from the real world
> experienced by his students, and the racism experienced within their
> circuit. I expected a flood of responses about these issues, but was
> already involved in the Divisions thread on other fronts and figured Mark
> could handle the racism thread - it looked like it would be an interesting
> discussion. Instead, the silence was deafening.
>> 2. A week and a half later, Mark posted another message shouting at the
> community to wake up. He restated the issues. Now, some discussion has
> started, but still nothing compared to the esoteric details of the
> Divisions thread and Transfers.
I agree that we should discuss issues of racism in debate. It is
certainly an important issue. However, I don't believe you can compare
the threads on Transfers and divisions to discussions of racism. In both
instances specific policy options have been proposed. This gives people
something tangible to discuss which is probably why it generated a lot of
> 3. I posted a message supporting the idea that science majors should
> participate more in debate (i.e. that we should diversify the community in
> another dimension), and used a masculine pronoun. A half-dozen answers,
> rebuttals, and a full bibliography greeted me the next morning. Nobody
> bothered to ask why I chose that pronoun, or considered the possibility
> that such a detail could be unimportant in the real world - it was assumed
> that the choice was deliberate, premeditated, and representative of an
> "antiquated" mentality that oppresses women through patriarchal language.
I have thred things to say to this. First, people interpret your words.
You happened to write in such a way that it sounded as if you were using
the generic masculine to include all of humanity. That is the way that
your words were written. That is how people will interpret them. That
is if they don't interpet it to mean that you really meant that only men
are noble laureates. Second, I think it is particularly patronizing when
you tell me that the use of gender specific pronouns is unimportant in
the real world. I hate to break it to you, but debate is the "real" world
for a lot of females. The language choices people use in this activity
affect my "real" world as well as the "real" world of all women who
participate in this activity. In addition, the use of language does
have an effect on people in the real world. I will answer this in more
detail below where you make your preempts. Thirdly, I don't think it
makes one iota of a difference whether or not you deliberately chose to
exclude women with your language choice. The point is that you did.
Would you accept the answer from someone if s/he said I didn't mean to be
racist. I didn't mean to exclude that person from our activity. I would
hope not. But I find it appalling that you happily use this excuse to
justify the sexist effects of your langauge choices. Oppression is not
right if it is based on either race or gender.
> You've proven you can talk the talk - why not try walking the walk?
> Now for some specific analysis of the "sexist language" issue, and an
> explanation of my position on it.
> First, the "sexist language" critique makes the assertion (backed by a few
> perception studies) that the use of the masculine pronoun shapes the view
> women have of themselves in the world, and that this, in turn, leads to
> our sexist social structure.
This is a vast oversimplification of the argument. You are merely trying
to make the argument look absurd so as to discredit it. I have yet to
see someone say that the use of gender specific pronouns in and of itself
is the cause of our sexist social structure. It is merely one part of
the larger system of socialization that defines what male and female
roles are in society. But I think it does have some effect, and I think
that studies would show that there is some correlation. Independently,
it effects both male and female perceptions. It's not just "poor little
women" who are weak enough to be affected by linguistic choices.
Nice theory, but I'm not a social scientist,
> so I'm not quite so gung-ho to extrapolate small laboratory results to a
> larger system without careful evaluation. There is an obvious prediction
> and corrolary made by this hypothesis: we would predict that women would
> have to get the language changed before gaining significant equality to
> men in the eyes of society, and as a corrolary, a culture with a
> gender-neutral language would have very little entrenched sexism.
As I argued above gender specific language is not the only way people in
our society are socialized. It is just one of many factors, which if you
would read the literature you would know. Which means some change can
occur without changing the language. It also means that if other
elements of society are also sexist, a gender neutral language system
does not guarantee equality.
> in New Zealand are among the most liberated in the world, even though they
> speak the King's English. Large numbers of French women have owned
> businesses and worked in "masculine" jobs since World War II, apparently
> undaunted by their nation's sexist language (and how could Simone de
> Beauvoir, a founder of feminism, have received an education and gotten her
> ideas published in such a truly oppressive culture?). Women in China,
> which has a nearly perfect gender-neutral language, could hardly be
> considered liberated. Empirically, the hypothesis fails in real social
I think that I have answered this above. I don't think your "real world"
analogies prove anything other than language is but merely one factor.
However, I don't think this should discount efforts to create gender
neutral language. Why can't we fight oppression on all fronts. Why
can't we attempt to call attention to offensive language. As an aside, I
think that your attempt to undercut the existence of sexism in western
culture to be offensive. Just because de Beauvoir was able to overcome a
sexist society and publish her works does not deny the existence of
sexsim. It just meant that one person was able to overcome sexism. If I
were to say that an African-American male received a high speaker award
at last year's NDT, therefore racism must not exist in debate, you would
rightfully laugh me off of the Listserve. I'm not sure why you are
willing to use such blatantly ludicrous arguments when it comes to the
issue of sexism.
> Second, this critique nicely illustrates exactly the hipocrisy I've
> described above. It is especially interesting to note that, while this
> hypothesis has been around for quite awhile, it is only in recent years
> that it has gained wide public exposure in the form of "political
> correctness." If changing the language is so important to changing the
> culture, why were the Civil Rights demonstrations of the '60s and the
> Women's Liberation movement of the same period so successful even without
> the widespread use of gender-neutral and race-neutral language?
Are you trying to argue that the Women's movements and the Civil rights
movements were completely successful? Last time I looked around there
was still a lot of sexism and racism in our society. The movements were
successful in getting legislation passed and did make some cultural
changes. However, the culture in the United States is still very much
dominated by a white male world view. I don't think either movement
really changed the overarching realities of our culture. In many
instances the racism and sexism just became less readily identifiable,
but still have very large negative effects on people. In many ways
changing our cuture does depend upon changing our language. The studies
that show our language and symbolic systems do much to determine our
culture are pretty good. This obviously encompasses more than just gender
neutral pronouns, however, we have to start someplace.
> more likely that, as these movements have been assimilated into society
> and lost some of their potency, their supporters have turned to "fixing
> the details" rather than worrying about the loss of their cause's soul. We
> refer to "people of color," but ignore the fact that they are still being
> railroaded into dead-end jobs. We insist that, in ambiguous cases,
> "he/she" should be used as the pronoun, but spend comparatively little
> time asking why there are so few female physicists.
I do ask the question of why there are so few female physicists. One of
the reasons I think this is true is because it is defined as a masculine
profession. One culprit of this is the use of gender specific pronouns.
It's not the only cause, but I think it is a contributing cause. How can
little girls and little boys who don't understand the nuances of our
langague be expected to understand that all people can be physicists when
the language that people use cause them to conjure up images of men?
I propose we make the
> Senate half female and stop worrying about pronouns.
I wish it were that simple. But it is not. We are what we are as a
culture because of socialization, and language is part of that
Mark tells the list
> that racism and disconnectedness are serious problems in CEDA. The list
> responds by ignoring racism and practicing disconnectedness.
I don't think that pointing out an instance of sexism is
disconnectedness. It may be disconnected to your masculine world, but it
is certainly relevant to my life as a female in a very male dominated
activity. As long as people like you argue that sexism is not relevant,
women will continue to feel disconnected from the activity.
> Finally, in terms of the specific "violation" of this ridiculous
> "standard," nobody bothered to ask if a gender-neutral pronoun was
> appropriate in this particular case. It just so happens that I have never
> heard a female Nobel laureate present her work in the sciences, either
> well or poorly. The two examples I was referring to need not be named,
> because I respect their science even if their speaking skills are awful.
> Both are male, both are white, both are late middle-age.
The way you chose to phrase your sentence made it sound like you were
referring to nobel laureates as a collective. All people have to go by
is the words that you use.
> McClintock died a few years back, so the chances of hearing a female Nobel
> laureate in my field speak have been reduced to exactly zero. The male
> pronoun, in this case, simply illustrates a fact: the people to whom I
> referred were male, as is their entire group. Yes, there are female Nobel
> laureates and at least one black one. In the sciences especially, they
> are grossly outnumbered by white (and more recently Asian) men, for
> reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with pronouns. Change a
> world, not a word.
Personally, I think you have to change some words to change the world. I
find it patently offensive that you sit and tell me as a female not to
worry about such little things like words, when there are more important
issues to be solved. I think that part of changing our culture depends
upon changing how we describe our culture through our symbolic
representations. I think sexism and racism need to be dealt with each
time we see a sexist or racist action. I find it appalling that when
people point out an action that they believe to be sexist, your response
is to belittle them and argue that they are dealing with trivial issues.
Sexism may be trivial to you, but it isn't for the women who work and
compete in this activity. While you are so busy chasting others why
don't you ask yourself why there are so few successful women in this
activity, and think about how things like your response to charges of sexism
work to further alienate women from this activity. I agree with you 100%
that racism is an issue that needs to be dealt with in this activity. I
just ask that you consider sexism too.
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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