Are we ready for Gender-Neutrality?

This column was in my local daily paper earlier this week:

Mona Charen

Essentially, columnist Mona Charen expressed discontent about Apple’s new word processor Pages because its spelling and grammar corrector suggested she make some of her terms more gender neutral.

Now, I can see her point on some counts–Pages tried to correct the “lady” in “first lady” to “individual,” for example, which doesn’t quite make sense. Furthermore, it preferred “speaker” or “advocate” to “spokesman” and Charen was concerned that her sentence would be confusing with either of those suggestions. In this case, if the person she was quoting was, indeed, a man, there really isn’t an issue anyhow.

But Charen doesn’t say that Pages was too picky or was offering the wrong suggestions. Her anger was directed, rather, at the political correctness of the spelling and grammar corrector. She concludes her column thus:

Apple’s language sentinel has been schooled in political correctness at the expense of English. In another column, I mentioned that the collapse of marriage was “aggravating” inequality in America. Consider “irritating” or “exasperating” instead, Proofreadress advised.

No, those are words I reserve for her.

Does political correctness actually significantly change the English language? If it does, is that a bad thing? This may be a better question for a linguist than for an activist for social change, but I think that political correctness mostly affects suffixes (-er/-ess, -man/-woman, etc.), so probably won’t change the form and function of the language to the point where it’s unrecognizable.                      
Perhaps a more pressing concern is that our society may not ready to unlearn political incorrectness. Are we so used to the current structure that we can’t see past it, that when change starts to affect all parts of society, people get irritated and exasperated?                                                                                                                                   .
I think that Charen was mostly overreacting (especially because Microsoft Word’s Spellcheck isn’t perfect either), and I don’t think that her column was much more than an outlet for frustration because she didn’t connect her anger to any broader problems besides pushing “political correctness at the expense of English.”                                                   .
Still, I think that it’s important that we recognize, as feminists and, more importantly, as activists, as people trying to change society and its discourses, that these are the arguments and sources of resistance that we will meet. People don’t really like change, especially when they feel personally confronted with it.                                                                     a
That said, do you think Apple was right to include these “politically correct” suggestions in Pages’ Proofreader? Do you think Charen has a right to be upset? And most importantly, do you think that this is just an isolated case of somebody being anal, or is it an indicator of widespread resistance to “political correctness” and why it exists?                                       aLet me know! For those of you traveling back to school after break today, be safe.                         aPeace,

Girl Power? Another look at the force behind VAW

I recently read an article by Newsweek about a mother in Canada who murdered her three daughters for being too “westernized.”  The question that has been haunting me ever since is, what could bring a mother to kill her own daughters, never mind three of them.  About a week and a half ago, the Armed RevolutioKnits yarn-bombed the 5Cs to spread awareness about violence against women (VAW).  While I do hope that our tags spread awareness about VAW, as well as increased dialogue about the issue, I feel I still need to address a question that I’ve been reflecting on: If VAW is acknowledged by many to be a violation of not only women’s rights, but also human rights, what is the reasoning behind those fervently defending various forms of VAW?

VAW affects females in all spectrums, irrespective of race, age, class, beliefs, values, or region.  Furthermore, it impacts more than just the women it is committed against.  VAW harms families, communities, and even economies.  When looked at through an economic stance, VAW costs billions in terms of counseling, medical treatment, and legal costs.  Moreover, VAW is known to also hinder the economic development of a country or state, according to the World Bank.  So, the reasoning behind those still supporting VAW couldn’t be the, ‘it’s not going to affect me, why should I care’ mentality.  If you believe VAW is not going to happen to you, it probably still will, at least in the sense that because it happens to someone, it will definitely affect some part of your life, whether you realize it or not.

So, what is their reasoning?  What is the basis for their argument?  In one word: Culture.  I do agree that cultures are valuable, and should remain diverse and retain their traditions, especially in such a quickly globalizing world.  Culture is something to take ownership of, and to be proud of.  But on the other hand, can, or should, anyone be proud to have VAW as a vital tradition or custom?

This is also one of the reasons why I was so shocked that a mother would kill her own daughters.  And, this is certainly not the first time that female family members, or even non-related older women, have verbally abused, punished, or beat Muslim girls in order to pressure them to submit.  Sins can even include wearing jeans, or just talking to boys.  But women being against other women?  What could motivate this kind of act?

Asra Q. Nomani of Newsweek suggests that women who perpetuate abuse against other women grew up “suffocating under the same rigidity and dogmatism they are now trying to enforce upon the next generation.” As the abused becomes the abuser, they simply repeat what they know—not being able to see their acts as a crime.

What people often forget to realize is how culture changes, and evolves over time, as different views come to challenge sets of beliefs and customs.  I strongly believe people have the right to protect and uphold their own cultures.  But more importantly, I believe that women have the right to not be subject to violence.  When culture compromises basic human rights, things need to change.  As Beata Zpevakova clearly states in an article for Gender Across Borders, “Prenatal sex selection, child marriage, dowry–related violence, early or forced marriages, wife inheritance, sati (the burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband) or maltreatment of widows are just a few of the practices that are commonly justified by culture- all of which violate a woman’s rights.”

By restricting women’s rights, you also restrict what, or rather who, women are.  What is the real motive behind VAW, justified by “culture”?  I’m starting to think “culture” is just another excuse, or façade for what the actual agenda is: keeping women in their “traditional” places: controlled, inferior, and most important, silent.

Speak out, let me know your thoughts on the issue.