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Re: sexist language in debian instructions/documentation

Nori Heikkinen writes:
> Helen Faulkner writes:
> > 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!

I have mixed feelings about it.

I wish we (=women, feminists) could get past the language thing.
I think we waste a lot of energy and good will on issues like
language and lose momentum for the things that are really important.

However, the example Helen gave seems fairly extreme: it almost
seems as though the author went out of his (<- masculine pronoun,
I think that's a safe assumption in this case!) way to use gendered
pronouns even when there was no reason for it.  Rewriting, as Carla
and Helen have done, to minimize the need for such pronouns seems a
much friendlier approach.

As to what to use: I used to be one of those annoying language
lawyers who winced when someone used "they" as a singular gender
neutral pronoun.  "It's not accepted English, 'he' is the accepted
generic."  But even aside from the fact that English is and has
always been an evolving language, which means there will always be
some constructs which are not currently accepted but soon will be,
it turns out I was wrong to think that.  I just checked the OED, and
the use of "they" as a singular generic pronoun is definition #2 and
dates back to 1526; while in the section for "he", I couldn't find any
clear reference to its use as a generic singular pronoun (though there
are references to the use of "he" for neuter nouns, where today we
would use "it").  I found no reference to he/she at all, though my
OED is not current.

(Er, sounds like I'm still an annoying language lawyer, just one
who's changed her mind? :-)

So I'm going to use "they" in my own writing, for now.  I find
"he/she" stilted and annoying.  Of course, for examples, alternating
genders as Jenn described works fine.

Anyway, I still think we shouldn't waste a lot of time and emotion
over sexist language.  But in cases like the NM pages which seem
to go to great lengths to thrust the masculine pronoun at us,
filing a bug to rewrite it in a more neutral way is worthwhile.


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