Lydia McGrew's recent post on gender-neutral language reminded me of Michael Bauman's essay that appears as a chapter in his book, Pilgrim Theology. As most of you know, Mike is a frequent commentator on this blog, often playing the part of Socratic tormentor of bleeding-heart papists. In any event, in "Verbal Plunder: Combating the Feminist Encroachment on the Language of Theology and Ethics," Mike takes no prisoners. Here is an excerpt:
The more valuable something is to me, the more I hate to lose it. As a historian of theology and a literary critic, I value words and their meaning, and I value tradition. I won't give them up without a fight. If someone wants to steal something from me and I can stop them, I will. This essay is my way of saying that I've had enough, and I'm not going to take it anymore.
Not long ago, a small and vocal band of feminist thugs tried to pull off one of the greatest acts of verbal plunder in the history of the Western world. By means of a linguistic subterfuge that prohibited any term that happened to strike them as sexist, they tried to abscond not only with one- third of all our generic personal and possessive pronouns (no more he and his, for example), they also tried to swipe any and every descriptive term beginning with the letters m-a-n. And because crime breeds crime, they fell quickly from larceny into slander by identifying as sexual bigots and chauvinists anyone, past or present, who failed to pay homage to their idiosyncratic rules of usage. As much as I hate to endorse anything to do with Freudianism, it seems to me that some feminists suffer from acute pronoun envy....
Have the feminist word bandits never learned that grammatical gender is not the same as sex? One does not make a sex statement when one calls the race man any more than when one calls a ship or a nation or liberty she. Genitalia are not in question. Sex and grammatical gender must not be equated. If you insist on equating them when the author you read or the speaker you hear has not, you will misread or mishear. In that sense, some feminists can misunderstand in seven languages. Their verbal fetishes make it inevitable. In their monomaniacal quest to expose the verbal genitals of every great writer, they miss the beauty, truth, and power of the world's finest works of verbal art and, in the process, make themselves beggars and complainers at the great feast of language and literature. Their ill-conceived sexist jingoism does little else than make them whistlers, hecklers, and foot stompers in the rhapsody of words played out for us by the finest verbal performers of all time. I am scandalized by their audacious efforts to teach the old Muses new words and by the manner in which they pretend to stand in ideological and artistic judgment over them. Great words and great works judge us, not vice versa.
As a grammatical category, the concept of gender first reached maturity in Ancient Greece, where it seems not to have developed as a reference to sex, but rather as a classification of kind. Must I remind feminists that while there are only two sexes, Greek has three genders (a distinction of which the Greeks were well aware and heartily endorsed)?
Furthermore, the same nonsexual character of grammatical gender is repeated in modern language. In German, for example, the word for girl is grammatically neuter while the word for turnip is feminine. This does not mean that the Germans confuse their women with their vegetables. Such ideas are laughable to us because when feminist propaganda is not blaring in our ears we easily understand that grammatical gender is a semantic classification and that a semantic classification is not the same as biological sex. You must not impose a sexual orientation upon words where one does not exist.
If the words man and mankind were really male words, then it should be the men, not the women, who ought to be offended by the use of allegedly male terms to refer to the race indiscriminately. By employing a masculine word for a generic meaning, our culture would be demonstrating that it thinks nothing at all of defacing or erasing maleness. If generic words really were male words, then masculinity is being defaced every day by everybody-and no one seems to object, least of all the feminists. The feminist word fetish sometimes reaches ridiculous extremes, as even the feminists themselves have had occasion to acknowledge. The Nonsexist Wordfinder actually feels compelled to stop and remind its feminist readers that the words "amen," "boycott," "Manhattan," and "menopause" are not sexist words! I never thought they were; but apparently enough feminists did to require such a warning....
The feminists' linguistic lobby, however, has exercised some discretion. Although they have stormed the Bastille Of Language and literature, and although they have laid siege to the gates of heaven and kidnapped its Chief Occupant, they have not yet had the nerve to bombard the walls of hell in order to claim its king as their own. It's funny how calling the Devil "he" doesn't bother the feminists. it doesn't strike them as chauvinistic or sexually bigoted to personify evil in precisely the same language they elsewhere label sexist when used to personify goodness. Nor do they complain on behalf of all little boys everywhere about how psychologically devastating it must be for males to think of evil itself as one of their own kind. Apparently, pronouns are sexist only if they can be construed as anti-feminist.
But make no mistake about it, the feminist encroachment on the language of religion and morality is no mere tempest in an academic teacup. It is far more than the harmless verbal jousting between grammarians and theologians on the one side and women's libbers on the other. It is, and I do mean this literally, a matter of life and death.
You can read the whole thing here.