Wednesday, February 22

Sexing it up!

I recently attended a session on 'Gender sensitivity in writing'. With all due respect to the speaker and the topic, I, as a kinda professional writer (or writeress?) fail to understand why so much was being read into this issue.

The basic proposition of the speaker (this is a neutral word, isnt it?) was:
"Nonsexist language allows you and your reader to focus on what people do rather than which sex they happen to be. Using "he" and "man" as generic terms does not represent reality today. Research has shown that the average reader tends to visualize a male when reading "he" or "man". You can't expect your reader to think of a woman if you talk about a "salesman." If you inadvertently come across as sexist, part of your audience could feel insulted or offended, and will not even try to understand what you are saying. Using "he" as a generic pronoun can be misleading in certain contexts. Your audience may be confused and think that you are only referring to the male members of whatever group you are referring to."

The speaker went on to give strategiesd to avoid such 'sexist' stuff to the extent of saying:
"Use a mixture of male and female names in scenarios and examples.
You can then refer to John as "he" and Mary as "she". Beware of stereotyping the senior person as the male and the subordinate person as the female, but don't use reverse stereotyping for everyone either. Also be careful when the situation clearly cannot include both sexes E.g. In a medical text discussing pregnancy, the doctor can be either male or female, but the patient is always female."
(Please! Give me a break. What are we all, dumbwits/fools/mentally handicapped.... what?)

For one I see no reason why it should be such a big issue. I mean so what if I write "the baby was crying and so his mother petted him"? Why should the use of 'his' and 'him' matter so much so long as the point is being communicated. We have grown up with the language being used in a particular manner and for all practical purposes using 'him', 'his' and the like is more a matter of convenience than wanting to appear or being a 'sexist' and offending the other sex. Insteasd, using 'gender sensitive' tactics like writing plural, he/she, s/he, etc. is a rather clumsy way of putting things and would definitely make my copy look messy. Neither do I see any reason why using 'his/him' would make it difficult for the audience to comprehend and relate to the content. How many of us really even give a thought to whether the use of words is sexist or not to be in effect offended by it and focus on the sexist nature of the content rather than the meaning of the content itself? (how many of us actually focus on the content in the first place?)

How many of you would be offended if I say "the reader should kindly put in his comment for further dicussions about the issue"?


Shruthi said...

Oh yes that's a very valid point you have here. I wonder how it all started. I think a generic he should be just fine. In fact, I use a lot of s/he and him/her in my writing too, just to be on the safer side. But I personally do not really get offended at such usage. The only time I do get offended is when some ads declare - "Save money for your son's education and daughter's marriage"... or something on those lines. Then I say, why not Daughter's education? And that gets me riled up. Apart from that, its just fine!

Supremus said...

So completely agree!!

The point is to get the point across (hehe - stop and admire my wordplay here :P), and I see no reason why I should be using he/she or it for that matter.

I think one should write the way they want to say something... and not succumb to stereotype writing.

Manasi said...

Shruti: I agree there. Why does it always have to be 'daughter's marriage'. Are daughters only marriagable commodities for which you really have to work hard and save tons of money ?
(Ok remaining I will write later or else this might end into a swearing ceremony!)

Suyog: What matters is that the point is communicated? And for that the communicator should also be at ease with the medium of communication. Succumbing to stereotypes and making special conscious efforts to avoid something can really affect the flow of thought and writing and the writer can feel betrayed by his own writing!

Bhupi said...

Looks like ur speaker had nothing else to do so he thought of creating this issue.

Ashish Gupta said...

Beware! You will find yourself on wrong side of feminism.

Somehow the strrrrretch of this form of feminism in everyday life irks me to no end (lots of feminism related blogs linked on desipundit fall in this category), but dare I raise a issue and I am automatically MCP. I am daring here, lets see.

Queer said...

For heaven's sake, I would have thought there are other issue to be discussed other than using non-sexist language. I mean seriously who cares?

doubtinggaurav said...

What about it ???

It is gender neutral right ?

Manasi said...

bhupi, queer: quite right. i dont think even 10% of those present cared.

ashishg: wrong side of feminism? i really doubt where you can draw the line and confidently say that i am on this or that side of feminism. its quite a tricky slippery area actually.

doubtinggaurav: right

karmic_jay said...

Is this political correctness ran amok? I agree with you Manasi, this is just nuts. The idea is for the author to convey whatever he/she needs to, get the point across, the message out. The idea is to enthrall the reader.
Beware! You will find yourself on wrong side of feminism.

I don't think this is a feminist issue. It's easy to assign labels, isn't it?

Ashish Gupta said...

I guess some people didn't get irony/sarcasm in my comment and labelled me a labeller. As I indicated in my comment itself that many feminist delve into such issues leaving aside 'real' (that make difference) issues. And the 'wrong side' I referred to obviously referred to line drawn by superficial feminists.

suryakannan said...

hey, u ve got ornamental projections of thoughts which are jewel sequenced n studded with diamonds of daily reflections.It really hammers out a stampede of feelings that showers juices of molten gold onto the different layers of mind. gotta kinda inscrutable feeling while readin' ur blog.

plz chk out mine n leave ur comments

Manasi said...

suryakannan: My God! What a comment! It took me some time to really understand what you meant. (I doubt if I still know it 100%)
Thank you for kinda words! :)

Shruthi said...

Suryakannan... thats a profound statement :))) I agree with Manasi, I read it 5 times, but still am to understand it ;))

Rajit said...

If the author chooses to write profound statements like Suryakannnan did, no reader will ever feel offended :)

My observation is that when I get into this 'gender-safe' mode of writing, I tend to lose track of my thoughts while annoying myself with this 'he/she' and 'his/her' sentence structures!

Manasi said...

Rajit: hey very true. YOu are so conscious of not being sexist that you forget what you should have been writting instead. The flow of thought and pen is broken and it can get really irritating to say the least.

Vulturo said...

Fully agree.