It does not compare – in injustice, massacre, blood letting and sheer irrational fury – to the war between humans and language. The English language in particular has taken some heavy hits, is bleeding profusely and needs reinforcements, or at least a pat on the back and a swat on the face of its attackers.
It pains me to say it, but the most egregious attackers are my own gender. In my last year of college, my American Lit Teacher was a Fullbright scholar. While teaching us something he started apologizing and we all (a class of women) stared at him blankly. He explained that he’d said he, not he/she and was apologizing for not including us. We explained – thank heavens, disdainfully – that “he” included the female gender. He laughed nervously. It wasn’t till I got here that I found the reason for the nerves.
Having found out there are bands of roving female guerrillas who take potshots at the English language when an opportunity offers, I am still not impressed. He/she – really? Seriously? People are driven so horribly insecure by the fact they have a vagina that they must hysterically demand their gender be made a note of? I thought we wanted equality…
Yes, yes, the male was always a portmanteau word. My dear children, until the pill established real equality – so sorry if you thought it was obtained shoulder to shoulder. It wasn’t. The pill just changed the game fundamentally – women were mothers, daughters or wives, or not worth mentioning. Unless of course they were members of the nobility. “He” made a convenient short hand. To be offended by this is to be offended by history. And to refuse to be integrated in the one term is to exclaim loudly and often that women are in fact different. Also insecure children who must be appeased. Do you imagine that once we get the whole world to do he/she we’ll have earned respect? Do you not see the condescension inherent in the “how to write politically correct prose” instructions. IS this where we should have our laser-like focus? And don’t tell me we have to start somewhere. He/she is not going to stop female circumcision or female stoning which still goes on merrily in lands where they can point to our attacks on language and say “see, that’s what giving women power does. They’re all irrational children.”
And if I could tolerate the he/she, I couldn’t tolerate the other abominations that proceed from that toddler-like tantrum and rolling on the floor. The non concordance of phrases for instance. To avoid saying “If one wants to do that, he” we are now forced – and copy editors correct to – “If one wants to do that, they.” I find myself doing it, and it’s wrong, silly and stupid.
And please, don’t get me started on herstory and womyn, two constructions of such mountainous philological stupidity they remind me of that white supremacist cult who refused to use human because it referred only to people of color (hue-man.)
I’d like to remind all womyn trying to rewrite herstory that English was NOT – contrary to certain books – the primeval language spoken in Eden and that if one’s entire being is devoted to keeping the language from oppressing us, perhaps there isn’t much THERE to oppress anyway.
Not that we are the only offenders. No, the offenses are multitudinous – though few of them, save perhaps that of the white supremacists (and I’m sure black supremacists and, for all I know, purple supremacists) DIRECTED and intentional.
I can hear you right now, telling me I’m fuddy duddy. Grammar is no longer prescriptive, just descriptive. And language has always evolved. Oh, sure. Note I’m not railing about online abbreviations, even as they creep into our speech. That is an innovation brought into existence to suit a new technology and creeping into mainstream. That’s how languages change. It’s the mechanics of progress that gin up the next phase of a tongue, if they’re not sabotaged. 😉
Yeah, some of it changes through ignorance. When doing my first musketeer book, the only reason I was allowed to leave in my subjunctive was because it was an historical. Because the subjunctive was too difficult for people to grasp. Of course, if we’re going to be forced to sing “If I was a rich man” it sounds plain stupid, but this, like one/they doesn’t seem to bother the powers that be.
And right now you’re saying “But Sarah, you said female equality was the result of the pill. So. There. Technological advance. We’re now entitled to our language change.” Uh. No. A female who is equal to the males shouldn’t feel a need to change an abstract he to he/she. A female who believes that equality was won shoulder-to-shoulder and ever vigilant, might. The thing is such changes proceed from the inside, and from the bottom down or not at all. Language, like the economy, is a chaotic system. You can’t change it from the top down. At least not in ways that make it more functional. It will at best shrug you off and at worst perform less well than it was doing before. (Oh, and by the way, you’re not entitled to anything other than respect as a human being.) At best he/she is a temporary distortion of the language. And an excuse for those of us who are perpetually insecure to jump up and down on the males and thus call ourselves feminists while achieving nothing of substance. If that’s what you want to do, go right ahead. But not in my name.
Articles are a very fundamental part of the language. Changing them can make sentences difficult, stupid or agrammatical. It can make things hard to read. It can prickle like a bur in your shoe and make reading less than fun. It costs me money. How many readers are lost to the butchering of language? How much ammunition are we giving those people who say women are infantile?
You want to fight? You’re spoiling mad? Oh, good. Go forth and fight against real injustices done to women. Leave-the-language alone. I warn you, I’m not in a good mood. Leave my tools of the trade alone.
If every interest group keeps pecking at what we use to communicate, soon enough communication will be impossible. Telling stories will be fraught with peril. And much too soon we’ll get to the place where liberty is serfdom, joy is sadness and every man – and woman, note how correct I am – is an island with no boats to reach any other island.