Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Critical Reading - Jessica Lloyd

At first glance, I was worried I was going to have a very dry few minutes ahead of me as I drag my eyes from word to un-biased word. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself up to my ears in helpful examples and, dare I say it, personality. Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines by Rosalie Maggio clarifies how our culture has been affected by language and follows up with definitions of classic biases. In a contrasting approach, we are introduced to Michiko Kakutani, author of the article The Word Police. In his article, Kakutani ultimately disagrees with pussyfooting around unorthodox terms and censoring social norms in order to save face. He brings our attention to Little Miss Coppertone, who is now in need of a gender equal; all hail Little Mr. Coppertone.

It seems as though any word containing the prefix or suffix of “man” or “men” need to be reassessed. For example, if we can no longer “man a ship” are we supposed to “woman/man/transgender a ship”? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it sounds ridiculous. Some schools have abandoned the word “freshmen” for “first-year student”. Although the term “freshwomen” eliminates the bias that only men are worthy of school, it still doesn't encapsulate the whole.

As writers we are artists in our own right, and it is argued by some of us artists that the use of unbiased language “spoils the fun”. Maggio is quick to dispel any fear and reassures us by saying, “If we have to search for the unbiased phrase it is not any more effort than we expend on proper grammar, spelling, and style.” Some people have panic attacks over “losing” words but Maggio argues by explaining how disrespectful words, although part of our history, will have no impact on the strength of our language or society if tossed to the curb. On the other hand, for some people the terms are not sung to the tune of disrespect, for they were brought up during a time where society deemed the words acceptable by ethical standards of the time. Unfortunately, laziness can keep change at bay, as some people are sick of having to “watch what they say”. Lastly, Maggio states, “The greatest objection to bias-free language is that it will lead us to absurdities.” She goes on to alter the song lyrics to He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother from “biased” to “unbiased”. I have to agree, the unbiased version does sound absurd - not exactly something you can snap your fingers and tap your toes to. Still, she encourages the use of unbiased language and elaborates by saying, “One of the most rewarding – and, for many people, the most unexpected – side effects of breaking away from traditional, biased language is a dramatic improvement in writing style.” That’s good enough for me…

In closing, Maya Angelou refers to us all as “humankind”; whether we are Jewish or Catholic, French or Greek, gay or straight we are all classified as human. Kakutani recognizes her words as an, “official embrace of multiculturalism and a new politics of inclusion.”

Is Sesame Street Politically Incorrect?

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