Jerry Davich: Gender-neutral language - another he-said, she-said debate
Jerry Davich email@example.com February 17, 2013 11:14PM
Manhole cover in downtown Gary. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 19, 2013 6:12AM
Should the word “manhole” be made into “utility hole”? Or “ombudsman” into “ombuds”? “Penmanship” to “handwriting”? “Freshman” to “first-year student”?
In our society’s snail-slow but ever-steady march toward political correctness, this is what is taking place across the country by state lawmakers, including Indiana.
Formally, it’s called “gender-neutral language” and state officials from Florida to Washington state are jumping on board to rewrite official documents to better reflect contemporary America. (Washington has a 500-page proposal on its docket.)
At least 30 states have explored or addressed this issue to be more inclusive in state legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
My question of the day to you: Is this merely an over-reactive response from state officials to appease female voters and progressive-minded constituents? Or is it smartly keeping our dusty laws and old documents in lockstep with the current times?
“In its broadest sense, gender-neutral language is achieved by avoiding ‘gendered generics,’ which are masculine or feminine nouns and pronouns used to refer to both men and women,” states one paragraph in a 30,000-word article titled, “The Supreme Court and Gender-Neutral Language: Setting the Standard or Lagging Behind?”
Published in the January 2010 Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, it cites how the U.S. Supreme Court justices use gender-neutral language in their rulings and writings.
“For example, gender neutrality could be achieved by referring to police officers, rather than policemen,” the article explains.
Other examples of job-title alternatives by the U.S. Department of Labor include “worker” for workman, “appliance repairer” for repairman and “salesperson” for salesman.
Several states are working on multiyear endeavors to remove “male-dominated language” from their state codes, including the Hoosier state.
“The Indiana practice is to change references in old laws as the old laws are amended,” said George T. Angelone, executive director of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency in Indianapolis. “Since around 1990, when a law is recodified, gender specific references are changed as needed.”
In other words, there is no immediate sweeping change taking place in our state, but more so as new bills are written and older laws updated. The result will be the same eventually, requiring all language to be gender neutral.
Where does it stop?
A search of the Indiana Code database would find 892 sections of codified law that contain a reference to “he or she,” and 503 sections contain a reference to “him” or “her.” (If you ignore the words “human” and “German Township,” there are 85 sections of codified law containing words that end in “man.”)
I have no idea how long it will take lawmakers and bill writers to update all of that gender-specific language, but other states also are addressing this issue, from drafting new bills to changing state constitutions. It will surely be a never-ending process of updates, rewrites and reminders to lawmakers.
The current legislative drafting manual for the Indiana General Assembly gives the following instructions on page 10: “To the extent possible, avoid words importing gender.”
And on page 33, under “general clean-up” to correct or update existing Indiana Code: “(c) Removal of gender references.”
For instance, the standard used by the National Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, including Indiana, recommends not using phrases such as “he or she,” “his or her,” or “himself or herself.” “Instead, repeat the noun,” it states.
For example: An individual who makes an investment in a business enterprise and erroneously but in good faith believes that the individual has become a limited partner in the enterprise is not liable for the enterprise’s obligations.”
Even the U.S. Supreme Court is revising its language, as noted in this summary excerpt of the aforementioned article: “Gender-neutral language is additionally important because its opinions are so widely read, and they act as models of legal writing for law students.”
Through the years, many of our everyday words have already been gender-neutralized, such as firefighters (not firemen), humankind (not mankind), chairperson (not chairman), and letter carrier (not mailman).
But other words are trickier. How about “manned flight”? Would it be piloted flight? “Man-on-the-street interview”? Would it be “average person on the street”?
Or would “manmade” become “manufactured”? Oh wait, of course not. There is still a “man” in that word. How about “artificial”?
Man oh man, where does this end? Oops, I meant to say, person oh person, where does this end? Obviously, it doesn’t end and we’re really just getting started.
This reminds me of the old joke about a married couple swimming in the ocean when a killer shark swims menacingly around them. The husband panics and takes a defensive stance in the water while the wife continues to playfully splash around without a care.
“What’s wrong with you?!” the husband yells at the wife.
“Why should I be worried?” the wife replies calmly. “It’s a MAN-eating shark.”
Speaking of fish ...
Have you heard about the upcoming fundraising fishing tournament this summer in Northwest Indiana?
Sponsored by the Post-Tribune and Bass Pro Shops, it will take place June 29 with boats launched at the Portage Marina. The tournament will help the Warriors First Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project.
For more info or to sponsor the event, call Bob Lowry at 648-3175.
We hope to see all you “fishers” there. That’s right, this is the new updated word for “fisherman.” I kid you not.
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