Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gender Neutral Language

Last week, as I wrote about my marriage anniversary, I thought about my use of the word "spouse."  I've gotten interesting comments through the years about my use of that word.  Some people seem to find it offensive.  Some people suspect that I'm hiding something.  Some people wonder why it matters, since I refer to my spouse with male pronouns--why not use "husband"?

I've been using gender neutral language when I can since the 1980's.  I was an English major, and I really believed that if we made our language more gender neutral, we'd make our society give women more opportunities.  I also had similar beliefs about the gender neutrality of God language.

I could argue that we've been successful.  I could smile fondly at the language activism of my young self.

I thought about refusing to get married until my gay and lesbian friends had the same opportunities.  But honestly, I never thought I'd see that day in my lifetime.

I didn't have my marriage-should-be-sacrament ideals then.  On the contrary, I thought marriage was a trap, a tool of patriarchal culture.  I can still make a case for that view, especially for women who have children. 

But we've made progress in that area.  We still have a distance to travel, but at least it's not legal to rape your wife any more, the way it was when I got married in South Carolina in 1988.

I still like the idea of gender neutral language for all the reasons that I did when I was younger.  I think if we can make all of our language, not just marriage language and God language, more gender neutral, life will be easier for our transgendered brothers and sisters--and easier for us all.

I'm an English major at heart, after all.  I believe that our language shapes us in ways most of us are hardly aware of.  I believe that it's crucial to create a more egalitarian society, and a place where we can all start is with the words that come out of our mouths and our pens (or fingers, as the case may be).

1 comment:

Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

I wrote a poem about the connotations of the word, "husband," which I like, though I'm not as crazy about "wife."