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3-16-2009 @ 5:42PM
""Craftswoman" tells me what gender the person is, but I still don't know what color her skin is. What about her religion? What about her height? What about her preferred breakfast food?"The point of modern gender-neutral language is that it does not tell you what gender the person is. "Crafts(wo)man", "craftsperson", or "crafter" are all inclusive terms that could refer to either a woman or a man. A "craftsman", on the other hand, is a man. Lofty etymologies aside, the clear implication of the word is "a man who crafts". Telling women that they must accept being referred to using male-gendered terms - and criticizing them when they use less exclusive terminology - is condescending and petty."Will creating artificial names for professions make up for past inequalities? Will those artificial names even make up for current biases?"No to the first question, and mostly no to the second. But choosing gender-neutral language does at least prevent us from constantly reinforcing those biases.The experiment I set out doesn't presume that people would be very likely to assume that a craftsperson is a woman even with gender neutral language. There probably is a strong underlying bias there. What I think it would show, though, is that people would be much more likely to assume that a craftsman is male than to assume that a craftsperson is male."The meaning of "craftswoman", however, is ambiguous. "In what way? The construction of terms by replacing "-man" with "-woman" or "-person" is very common and quite simple. I find it hard to believe that someone would be familiar with "craftsman" but unable to comprehend "craftsperson." Even in such a case, it would take 10 seconds of education to rectify.The other option, to freeze the inherent sexism of the language and continue the use of "universally inclusive" male-gendered terms for all time, is much less appealing.Language evolves according to pressures on it. In this case, the pressure is to represent both men and women equally. And as much as we might try to make some great ado about the relatively minor changes required, it's really quite simple to do.
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