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Re: sexist language in debian instructions/documentation

on Mon, 02 Aug 2004 08:28:01PM +0100, Helen Faulkner insinuated:
> Hello everyone,

hey helen,

> So I've spent most of today battling my way through the New
> Maintainers Guide, trying to work out how to package some very
> simple things.  I *think* I'm making headway...
> I've been reading various pieces of documentation/policy/guidelines
> in my travels, and I keep finding things like this, from
> http://www.debian.org/devel/join/nm-advocate:
> Count the "he"s.  I get 13.  This doesn't seem to be, based on the
> stuff I've been flicking through, particularly unusual.  And people
> wonder why women find debian unfriendly to them!  It's certainly
> discouraging to me.
> I'm sure that this is not _intended_ to be unfriendly, or even
> sexist.  Maybe the people who wrote it, don't even realise why using
> such language is a problem.  But it can't be that hard to
> automatically go through the webpages, search for occurances of "he"
> and change them into "she/he", and change "him" into "him/her" etc.
> Does anyone on this mailing list doubt that such things do matter?

i'm with you on this one, wholeheartedly.  it's a pet cause of mine.
unfortunately, a lot of male geeks i know don't see it the same way i
do, and have dismissed me as all kinds of raving, polemicist, and
crazy because of it.  the most recent was with a debian developer (who
also happens to be an ex of mine, making it all the more infuriating)
who just doesn't see the problem because he's never been on the
receiving end of discrimination, refuses to acknowledge that it
exists, and therefore refuses to change his language.

i have a feeling he's not alone on this, and that we might encounter
some resistance were we to try to change this.  (not that i'm saying
we shouldn't try, just that it won't necessarily be a cakewalk.)

> What can we do to get this sort of thing fixed?  

well, first, i'd think we'd need to have specific reasons why it needs
to be changed (easy to write up, but need to be phrased nicely), and
also specific suggestions of how to fix it.  i'm a fan of the pronoun
"they" as a gender-neutral 3rd-person singular, but some people insist
that's ungrammatical.  next best, i'd say, would be "s/he", "she/he"
or "he/she", but again, some find this clunky and are opposed to it on
stylistic grounds.  i just hate "xe" and its alternatives, and i don't
think we'd find many people out there in DD land who would love that,
either.  maybe just a suggestion to avoid prounouns when possible is a
good place to start (but certainly not the whole battle)>

> Preferably quickly :) I am happy to write to people personally and
> ask that they fix up such language when I see it, especially if
> anyone can suggest who to write to.  But maybe there is a better way
> to approach the problem.

maybe the philosophy of submitting patches instead of just filing bug
reports is applicable here -- if you (or i, or we, or whoever notices
this somewhere) were to re-write the offending text with better
pronouns and enclose it, along with an explanation of what the problem
was, we might be met a lot more warmly than if we were to just demand
that they fix something they don't see as a problem.


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