Time for 21st century speak! Use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun.

Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux

Lord Brougham: one of the men responsible for women being denied the right to vote. Read more about it in today's post. Image via Wikipedia.

Here’s the rest of that essay as promised yesterday!

We are not being pernicious bitch feminists when we ask you to use ‘they’ rather than ‘he’, we ask you to use ‘they’ because it includes women and girls as equals.

Language shapes identity and sociocultural mores.  Girls need to grow up knowing they are equal, and having that affirmed in the language they hear and read.  It also helps boys grow up recognizing girls as their equal.

Language is just the tip of the iceburg, women are still grossly under and mis-represented in all aspects of media, and those are the images that shape the identity of little girls and boys.

I first wrote this article as a submission for a new women’s glossy that was being published in Ottawa.  It was rejected – by the female editor – as ‘not suitable’ for her publishing guidelines.  I then took it to the Ottawa Citizen and when I asked the editor why he accepted it for publication, he said:

“You changed my opinion.”

I hope it changes yours!

The Rise and Fall of the Generic Masculine

copyright Alison Boston
first published in the Ottawa Citizen, February 14, 1987, page B3 (the ed asked me to wear my glasses for the pic!  Stereotyping or what?)

Click on image to read.

Pierre Burton resigned from the jury selecting the museum’s new name, saying it was a ‘silly’ exercise.

“Museum of Man is a perfectly good name,”

he huffed.

Liberal senator Louis Robichaud said there was no need to change the name to make it non-sexist because:

“…woman is a man with a womb.”

Hence a sentence such as “everyone bought their ticket” was said to be grammatically incorrect, while “everyone bought his ticket” was considered correct (even though it negated the possible presence of half the human race.)

Click on image to read.

By 1850 the diminished status of women was so thoroughly entrenched in the English language that the British Parliament adopted the use of the generic masculine through Lord Brougham‘s Act.  …instead of doing what the act stated, judges looked at the context of the generic masculine to decide whether or not it was meant to include females.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this occurred when women claimed the right to vote.

…it was argued, …by the judges who presided, that in this instance the word “man” couldn’t possibly be meant to include women.

Click on image to read.

We cannot take the masculine out of words like “man”, “he”, or “him” – nor do we want to.  We do, however, want our rightful place, a place of equality, reflected in our language.”

Are you up for it?

Speak it!

Write it!

Insist on it!


Life is an amazing journey. http://www.alisonamazed.wordpress.com http://www.alisonboston.wordpress.com

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Posted in Alison Boston, Feminism, Politics, PostADay2011, Previously Published Writing, Use of Language, Writing
4 comments on “Time for 21st century speak! Use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun.
  1. Very enlightening article, Alison!
    A woman is a man with a womb. I mean….really.

  2. alisonamazed says:

    Yeah, no kidding! And that was a Canadian politician – graduated to Senator, no less, in 1987. (Shakes head making lips, cheek and chin wobble).

  3. I just saw your comment on WP’s the daily post so couldn’t resist coming over for a peak. I cover (non) gender specific language from time to time on my blog, and felt the post article was better written as post on my own blog, rather than clogging up the comments there. It’s here: http://cloudsmovingin.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/him-her-she-he-or-they-their/

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