Working toward parity through removal of linguistic gender bias

I was recently informed in somewhat brusque language by a college student that, "95% of all females believe the spelling ‘womyn' is silly." The student was ostensibly a student of psychology and of course a male. And he could not support his position with any peer-reviewed, statistically valid empirical evidence. Despite the questionable validity of the assertion, it does bring cause for question and thought on the issue on several levels.

The major issue, however, remains the inadequacy of education and awareness of the culturally ingrained gender-based imparities. How utterly amazing that any womyn could find the position of subordinance and subserviance to men as an acceptable life-status. It boggles the mind that any womyn would not only find enslavement as acceptable, but actually seek it for herself. We are on the cusp of a new millennia, and our progress to achieve human parity is ponderous in chiseling off the shackles of 5,000 years of cultural bondage. Allowing that bondage to continue within the gender-bias of our language makes it that much harder to change the core of our thinking and interhuman relational perspectives.

Men continue to wink at each other as they use what they term "politically correct" language, and proclaim that they are "'90s men" because they are "PC." Just using the term "PC" is condescendingly biased, by lacking conviction of belief through a tongue-in-cheek cynicism. As long as we continue to allow linguistic bias to exist, our efforts to achieve true parity are significantly hampered. It is virtually impossible to change perspectives when biases are reinforced every day simply through communication.

Early on in the movement, we worked to erase the "universal he," but it is still quite commonly accepted after almost two generations of linguistic evolution. We moved to discard all the "-ess" and "-ette" words which implied a differentiation between men's and womyn's abilities (the suffix -ette being particularly noxious by implying diminutive or lesser status). However, those words are still acceptable and commonly used. We moved to amend all words, especially those referring to professions, which contained masculine bias. But, those biased words are still used by school children today -- "I want to be a lady fireman." Talk about ridiculously inane language. And the teacher pats the child on the head and says, "Good girl."

As long as we allow gender bias to exist in any form we will never achieve human parity or economic parity. We will continue to encounter inequalities in pay; we will continue to bounce off the corporate "glass ceiling," and we will continue to be relegated to second-class status through inequitable "birthright." Yes, we have made significant progress over the past 100 years to break those shackles of bondage, but possibly it is time to break the stranglehold of the patriarchy. Our children must find the language of male-dominant culture as "silly." The word "woman," rooted as property or chattel of man, is what is silly. We must be radical in thought and assertive in deed, not finding half-measures as acceptable.

Maybe the word "womyn" is too linguistically close to "woman." Perhaps we must define ourselves independently and create a new language of gender parity. "We" are the circle of "gyns," and thus, wegyns. Dramatic? Yes. However, it is independent of the old subservient root and descriptive of us. We achieve because we dare to achieve. Wegyns are!

Tere Prasse
© 1997, San Antonio, Texas

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