Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gender: The new era sex

Is it Chairman? Chairwoman? Chairperson? Or just Chair?

What about Selectman? Selectwoman? Selectperson? Or just Select?

A whole industry has been born, staffed by formerly out-of-work English teachers and linguists, inventing several new and unnecessary words to promote gender sensitivity and political correctness.

Take the word “chairman.” The word is already gender-neutral. (We used to call this sex-neutral.) It no more denotes gender than the word “mankind.” Do we now need to change “mankind” to “womankind,” depending on the gender of the group we are addressing? What if the group is made up of one million women and one man? Got to go with “personkind” or “humankind,” I suppose. That lends credibility to the word “selecthuman.” Hmmm…

There is precedence in the romantic languages, where gender identification is very important. Not only are men and women distinguished by the use of gender-specific articles, but common objects assume gender characteristics, such as in the Spanish phrases la pluma (the pen—female) and el escritorio (the desk—male). So we know that Spanish speakers are very attuned to gender issues, at least grammarwise. Continuing in Spanish, a group of men are referred to as ellos. A group of women: ellas. And here’s my point: A mixed gender group is referred to as ellos. This is analogous to “selectmen” referring to a group comprised of both men and women. ¡Muchas gracias, amigos!

Not convinced yet? What about the confusion that’s created when a committee or board has co-chairmen? If they are both women, are they co-chairwomen or co-chairpersons or co-chairs? Can’t be co-chairwomen if one is a man. I kind of like “co-chairhumans-who-are-sensitive-caring-and-politically-correct.”

Here’s an authoritative source for you. The National Association of Parliamentarians, Inc. does not approve the use of “Chairperson.” In the handy reference book by Doris P. Zimmerman called Robert’s Rules In Plain English, Ms. Zimmerman states “Chairman denotes the position as head of a board or a committee. It is a parliamentary term that has nothing to do with gender. Gender is designated by addressing the individual as either ‘Madam Chairman’ or ‘Mister Chairman’.”

At this point, the astute reader would probably ask: “What am I doing reading this silly column?” Whereas, the brilliant reader would question how many of our tax dollars are being spent to change perfectly good legal documents, such as state laws and constitutions, that contain the newly-forbidden and ghastly words “he” and “his.” In fact, this happened in New York a few years ago when voters agreed on the pressing need to rewrite their state constitution. There, they changed “he” to “he/she” and “his” to “his/her.” Oh, by the way, they also changed “mankind” to “humankind.” So much for my ability to come up with an original thought.

Back to the point. Based on my extensive research into the cost of making millions of wording changes to the thousands of laws, constitutions and driving manuals, I’d say it’s going to cost a lot. That I am sure of.

Where do you come down on this pressingly hot issue? In Sandwich, the Board of Selects just elected a new Chair, who happens to be a woman. We tend to call her “Madam Chairman” in meetings. We mostly called the previous chairhuman “Tom” and the chairhomosapien before that, “Randy.”


  1. a chair is something one sits in..DavidL

  2. I'd ask the "Chair/Man/Woman/Person "how would you like to be addressed?" and go from there.

  3. Should we call the present chairman of the BOS Madam Chairman?

    In todays equal rights venue a man and a women are supposed to be equal,according to the print you read.

    If a women is a chairman and a man is a chairman I guess we could call them both Mr.Chairman to be correct.
    Then again this might seem sexist to address our present Chairman a woman as a man, perhaps the better word is Madam. Now that has a ring to it and would seem more appropriate in todays cultural society.

    Madam Chairman would you please allow the taxpayers of Sandwich to vote for an overide to keep new business from setting up here in our town.

    Mr. Chairman please do not place an overide before the taxpayers, before all the facts are known, as to how we may fund the items requiring more money.

    Carl J

  4. How about "selected." "Sandwich selectman" sounds like something to eat in an Ohio deli. Good luck with the blogging. I'm in my 6th years. Eventually, everyone you know will be mad at you.

  5. Call me Linell! You Blog is really something Randy. I'm glad I took a look at it. You are an excellent writer but where do you find the time. I hope there is a book coming up. Congratulations on a nicely set up and interesting blog.


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