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Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Is gender neutral language important?

Wash. state considers gender-neutral language bill

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — In Washington state, dairymen, freshmen and even penmanship could soon be things of the past.

Over the past six years, state officials have engaged in the onerous task of changing the language used in the state's copious laws, including thousands of words and phrases, many written more than a century ago when the idea of women working on police forces or on fishing boats wasn't a consideration.

That process is slated to draw to a close this year. So while the state has already welcomed "firefighters," ''clergy" and "police officers" into its lexicon, "ombuds" (in place of ombudsman) and "security guards" (previously "watchmen,") appear to be next, along with "dairy farmers," ''first-year students" and "handwriting."

"Some people would say 'oh, it's not a big thing, do you really have to go through the process of changing the language,'" said Seattle Councilmember Sally Clark who was one of the catalysts for the change. "But language matters. It's how we signal a level of respect for each other."

About half of all U.S. states have moved toward such gender-neutral language at varying levels, from drafting bills to changing state constitutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida and Minnesota have already completely revised their laws as Washington state is doing.

The final installment of Washington state's bill already has sailed through the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee with unanimous approval. The nearly 500-page bill has one more committee stop scheduled before full Senate debate.

Crispin Thurlow, a sociolinguist and associate professor of language and communication at the University of Washington-Bothell, said the project was admirable.

He said that as language evolves, such efforts are more than symbolic.

"Changing words can change what we think about the world around us," he said. "These tiny moments accrue and become big movements."

Clark and former councilmember Jan Drago — the Seattle City Council has long eschewed the terms councilwoman or councilman — brought the issue to Sen. Jeannie Kohl-Welles in 2006 after they came across references to firemen and policemen in the mayor's proposed budget, as well as in state law dealing with local-government pensions.

Clark and Drago's findings sparked the initial gender-neutral language law that was passed in 2007, immediately changing those terms and directing the state code reviser's office to do a full revision of the rest of the code. A 1983 Washington state law had already required all new statutes to be written in gender-neutral terms, so state officials were tasked with going through the rest of state statutes dating back to 1854 to revise the rest.

As in past bills on the issue that have tackled sections of the state code, some revisions were as simple as adding "or her" after "his." Others required a little more scrutiny. Phrases like "man's past" changes to "humankind's past" and a "prudent man or woman" is simply a "prudent person."

Kyle Thiessen, the state's code reviser who has been working on the project along with two attorneys since 2008, said that the work was not without obstacles.

Words like "manhole" and "manlock" aren't so easily replaced, he said. Substitutes have been suggested — "utility hole" and "air lock serving as a decompression chamber for workers." But Thiessen said those references will be left alone to avoid confusion.

Republican state Rep. Shelly Short, of Addy, has voted against earlier gender-neutral language bills and said she plans to do the same this year.

"I don't see the need to do gender neutrality," she said, adding that her constituents want her to focus on jobs and the economy. "We're women and we're men."

Kohl-Welles, who has sponsored each of the gender-neutral language bills, said that while this project hasn't been her top legislation every year, "overall, it has important significance."

"I believe," she said, "that the culture has changed."

by on Feb. 3, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Replies (21-30):
areid1023
by Silver Member on Feb. 4, 2013 at 12:33 AM
1 mom liked this

i am all for it. i think this is a great use of our resources. it is about darn time.

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Feb. 4, 2013 at 12:38 AM
1 mom liked this

My favourite thing to do in this context is change all the gender terms (in bylaws and constitutions and contracts, etc.) to female.

It's amazingly disorienting to most people reading them...

stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on Feb. 4, 2013 at 12:40 AM

Thank you!  I was feeling surprised that I was the only one who felt that way in a forum full of women!

Quoting annelauer:

You are completely missing the point. There are differences between men and women. And there are words to make that distinction. The problem is when a title presupposes only those belonging to a particular gender group are capable of fulfilling a role or inaccurately attributes certain characteristics only to one gender. This has a profound effect on how we view ourselves, others and our places within the community.


Quoting meriana:

The whole thing is rediculous. I wonder just how far they're willing to take this gender neutral idea...are we, at some point, no longer going to refer to children as girls and boys because that denotes a gender. People really need to get beyond seeing everything as stereotyping, excluding, offensive, etc. There are differences between girls and boys, men and women no matter how many try to deny it. Those differences used to be appreciated, these days it's all about making everyone the same.



fnpdocgrrl
by Boudica on Feb. 4, 2013 at 1:15 AM

This obsession with EVERY stinking thing having to be so PC all the time has gone totally over the top.  Witness a similar, but even more obnoxious case in Sweden, recently.
After skimming, it appears the thing here in WA state is not quite as offensive as I originally thought.  The situation in Sweden was much worse.

I don't care if this passes. 


LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Feb. 4, 2013 at 1:21 AM
2 moms liked this

Why not just change from male to female and back every decade?

Or, for crying out loud, how about using the words 'people' and 'person'?!?

Quoting fnpdocgrrl:

This obsession with EVERY stinking thing having to be so PC all the time has gone totally over the top.  Witness a similar, but even more obnoxious case in Sweden, recently.
After skimming, it appears the thing here in WA state is not quite as offensive as I originally thought.  The situation in Sweden was much worse.

I don't care if this passes. 



Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Feb. 4, 2013 at 2:54 AM
4 moms liked this
Quoting LindaClement:

My favourite thing to do in this context is change all the gender terms (in bylaws and constitutions and contracts, etc.) to female.

It's amazingly disorienting to most people reading them...

I think we should campaign for "woman" and "She" to be the default indicating both sexes, for the next 100 years, as fair balance for the several 100 years where the male gender has served that purpose.

We might, graciously, decide to accept gender neutral language as a compromise.

wickedfiress
by Kellie on Feb. 4, 2013 at 5:27 AM
1 mom liked this
Are we going to have to make something up to replace the word "woMAN" too?





Really ridiculous.
Posted on the NEW CafeMom Mobile
Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Feb. 4, 2013 at 5:31 AM
Quoting wickedfiress:

Are we going to have to make something up to replace the word "woMAN" too?

In Old English, wīfmann meant "female human", whereas wēr meant "male human". Mann or monn had a gender-neutral meaning of "human", corresponding to Modern English "person" or "someone", however subsequent to the Norman Conquest, man began to be used more in reference to "male human", and by the late 1200s had begun to eclipse usage of the older term wēr.

Goodwoman614
by Satan on Feb. 4, 2013 at 6:08 AM
4 moms liked this

Language matters. It's the science, bitches. It's why this move is being made, to change over to more gender-neutral. It's why Sesame Street began to have female muppets. It's why it WOULD sound strange to default pronouns to female...

see, here's the thing: while we can all see, react/respond to/discuss, etc. things that are hit-you-over-the head obvious affectors of human psyche, gender norms/prejudices/expectations...it's the stuff we don't even catch that has an outsized impact on us all, precisely because these things are subtle, unnoticed and therefore incorporated into us all without notice or question.

LetoLiebe
by Member on Feb. 4, 2013 at 9:09 AM

 Me!!.. I'm very happy to be female.

Quoting lga1965:

 Ahhhh, gee, why? I don't like the sound of gender neutral. Isn't anyone happy to be their gender anymore? I'm glad to be a female. Anyone else?

 

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