Wednesday, June 30, 2010

why gender-inclusive language is essential

My non-theological answer to why gender-inclusive language is essential: I am raising a daughter. At the age of 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 gender identity is one of the key ways she’s making sense of the world. She counts boys and girls (and whether the presence of a female dog ups the ante on the girls side so that they win). And, when she hears masculine language, she automatically excludes herself from the addressees.

As a man, this is something that experientially I will never be able to relate to, but as a dad I know that I want my daughter to hear the words of the Bible and know that they are expressed to her as much as they are to her brother. I don’t want girls or women who pick up the Bible to think that they are only members of the family of God by implication or by necessary consequence.

--J. R. Daniel Kirk, "Language and Social Programming" (HT Joel Watts and Suzanne McCarthy)


J. L. Watts said...

Even for one post, every once in a while, I am happy

J. K. Gayle said...

I appreciate you, and your blogging. You inspire me.

Katherine said...

Thanks to you and Suzanne for sharing this quote from a blogger I haven't read before. It warms my heart to hear of those who are trying to extend hospitality in their language as Christians and Bible-readers.

I was just talking with my sister about how, growing up, we both knew implicitly that boys were better. I had thought my brother was better (or more important or interesting or, I don't know, worthy of more attention) because he was a boy, a son. If only I had been a boy, I could serve God better, or understand him better, or commune with him more fully. And this even though our parents never ever EVER thought or spoke or acted so. We were all equally important to them, and we knew it, but culture and church can speak with such a loud voice. I had regretted that I was a "daughter" and a "woman" because such words did not have the euphony (and rhyming ability) that "son" and "man" did. I listened to others gripe and complain when the language in hymns and scripture was changed to be inclusive because now it was "ruined" and it didn't sound as nice as it used to. Language that described me didn't have the right aesthetic. All this even as I understood at the time that male language was just fine because I was (sometimes) included in it. This is the legacy of masculinist language. I am glad to hear of those who would not pass it on.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you for sharing your experience and your sister's! You encouraged me to post on FB not only my favorite line of the Declaration of Independence written on the 4th of July but also the fuller version of it in the Declaration of Sentiments:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

If some may gripe and complain, just maybe many others of us will also be just fine that we're all more included in it.

Gary said...

Kurk, I don't visit your blog very often. As you probably know by now, I am a white single male complementarian pacifist Protestant.

This has got to be the most telling argument I've seen for explicitly gender-inclusive language in English. Although (I think) one could reasonably expect adults to understand explicit gender inclusivity, for children that's simply not a reasonable expectation. And if girls, in their formative years, are getting the idea that they are lesser, then that is problematic. It must be addressed. If American adults don't grasp the meaning of grammatical gender, then surely children can't help but misinterpret it.

That said, I think there could still be a place for the implicitly inclusive masculinist language (which I will not get into here), but I want to say as your sometimes-opponent-yet-friend that I sympathize with this.

Gary said...

I have to say, though. I have a reflexive aversion to the idea that "my" gender is somehow generic. That's the trick, is determining how to emotionally respond to the difference in semantic markedness between the two grammatical genders.

Either A) the masculine is the standard, and the feminine is somehow other than standard [in some way, inferior], or B) the masculine gender is indistinct/generic, and we must compensate for the historical disparity between masculine and feminine references by deemphasizing the masculine and emphasizing the feminine.

Perhaps there is an option C. I do not believe either A or B can be right. But Kirk, what are your thoughts on how men react to hearing that their gender, which they perceive to be special [as is the female gender], is somehow generic? Is that not painful, also?

ANYWAY, sorry for such a long stream of consciousness. Hopefully there are kernels of insight in there somewhere.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks Gary. I'm on the road responding with an iPhone and without much time to read carefully or to respond properly to your comments here. Thank you, nonetheless, for making them!