[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: sexist language in debian instructions/documentation

Patty Langasek wrote:
On Mon, Aug 02, 2004 at 04:02:58PM -0400, Nori Heikkinen wrote:
I'm a female geek and disagree wholeheartedly. He/his has historically been
a generic way to refer to people, and concentrating on the fact that it also
implies 'male' seems to go a little overboard. To me, there really is no
good alternative unless you change everything to plural (they, them, their)
since grammar /does/ matter, or make these documentations ridiculously
cumbersome - he or she, his or her, etc.

I for one am not willing to sacrifice proper grammar or readability in
official documentation for political correctness. This, to me, isn't a
change that needs to be made as long as people see a simple, generic pronoun
as just that - a simple, *generic* pronoun.

Actually, doing some reading about this one last night, I found the material below on http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/ellens/Gender/pap/node21.html. It is consistent with my belief that in today's world, "man" doesn't really mean "man and woman". Also, as Akkana said, "they" is actually historically correct.


The most convincing argument that terms like ``he'' and ``man'' are not truly neutral comes not from abstract arguments but from empirical research:

In 1972, two sociologists at Drake University, Joseph Schneider and Sally Hacker, decided to test the hypothesis that man is generally understood to embrace woman. Some three hundred college students were asked to select from magazines and newspapers a variety of pictures that would appropriately illustrate the different chapters of a sociology textbook being prepared for publication. Half the students were assigned chapter headings like ``Social Man'', ``Industrial Man'', and ``Political Man''. The other half was given different but corresponding headings like ``Society'', ``Industrial Life'', and ``Political Behavior''. Analysis of the pictures selected revealed that in the minds of students of both sexes use of the word man evoked, to a statistically significant degree, images of males only --- filtering out recognition of women's participation in these major areas of life --- whereas the corresponding headings without man evoked images of both males and females. In some instances the differences reached magnitudes of 30 to 40 per cent. The authors concluded, `This is rather convincing evidence that when you use the word man generically, people do tend to think male, and tend not to think female ([Miller et al 1980, pages 19--20,]).

Additionally, ``a number of studies have shown that young people are influenced in their job preferences and their willingness to apply for advertised jobs by gender bias in the wording of the advertisements'' ([Bem et al 1973] in [Frank et al 1983, page 90,]).

Several sentences can be found that demonstrate that ``man'' is often unintentionally used to exclude women:

David Moser once .... observed that in books you will find many sentences in this vein: `Man has traditionally been a hunter, and he has kept his females close to the hearth, where they could tend his children.'.... So much for the sexual neutrality of the generic `man'. I began to look for such anomalies, and soon ran across the following gem in a book on sexuality: `It is unknown in what way Man used to make love, when he was a primitive savage millions of years ago' [Hofstadter 1986, page 145,].


Reply to: