Words that Count Women In
Words that Count Women In
The Ontario's Women's Directorate, Toronto, Due for Release January
1993, 36 pages, Paper, Free
Reviewed by Kate Kaufman
Words that Count Women In by the Ontario Women's
Directorate is a popular guide to eliminating gender bias in writing
and speech. Its direct approach to modifying lanuage that entrenches
stereotyping may cause some discomfort for those with fixed mindsets
about gender relations, and provide some surprises for those who
This short work makes no claims to being definitive, yet it provides
tremendous food for thought. Changing times require redefining terms
as new relationships break old boundaries. Why is it easy to accept
a newly-coined phrase or word - tofu, quark, hacker, flextime -
than it is to replace a dated term with a fresh one?
Example: "Granted, 'manhole cover' sounds more natural to
many of us than the non-biased alternative, 'sewer cover.' But that's
because it's new. To our children's generation, 'manhole cover'
will likely seem downright quaint."
Now to the surprises. Thinking myself reasonably open-minded, I
chuckled at example after example, until I was stopped dead.. Lively
writing using nouns that degrade women ("trollop, shrew, biddy,
oaf, scoundrel") is followed by suggestions for replacing nouns
with verbs ("tussle, plod, lurch, slither") for pictoral
clout. Time to pause and reflect. Yes this is a valuable exercise,
primarily because it puts a halt to asumptions and encourages one
to stretch. I'm reminded of that old lesson: don't tell your kid
she's a bad girl, let her know she's behaving badly.
Here are some of the questions that come to mind as one puruses
this work: What's at the root of the discomfort with new word usage?
How does one describe stereotypic characters? Did I realize I was
Gender-biased communication - images projected through our choice
of stereotypic verbal symbols, or pictures in graphic presentations
showing only men in positions of responsibility - is stilted and
supports the status quote. This concept is unveiled in the section,
"The Parallelism Principle." Meaningful change occurs
only when words and actions fall into sync.
This short work is thoughtfully compiled. It includes a glossary
of unbiased terms to replace biased ones, anecdotes and suggested
readings disclosing plenty of thought-provoking sytemic biases we
may not even be aware we hold. The Ontario Women's Directorate invites
us to send along our experiences with inclusive lanuage and to share
creative solutions to "count women in".
This article originally appeared in Sources,
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