From: cary eugene wolfe
To: Joe Tabbi
Date: Sun, 25 Aug 1996 16:41:24 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Fromm riPOSTe

A Bee in His or Her Bonnet

Cary Wolfe

Harold Fromm's accusation that I use sexually exclusive language in my response to Michael Berube is mean and unfair. Fromm says that alternating between "he" and "she" in the text of an article is an instance of "grandstand virtue," while using "he or she" is not. Nonsense. Both are instances of grandstand virtue, and this is as it should be. The point of both forms is to indicate an awareness on the part of the writer that generic pronoun references should not, like the traditional generic pronoun "he," automatically associate the generic with the male. Different writers use different forms for this--he likes "he or she," I prefer roughly alternating the masculine and feminine pronouns, and you see both styles all over the place, especially in academically-oriented writing. To hang a charge of sexism on the difference between two ways of indicating the the same political point is unwarranted and petty.

Fromm's assertion that male pronouns "have historically been understood to include women" strikes me as bizarre for one so ostensibly bent on inclusion. "Been understood" by whom, exactly, to have been so inclusive? And if so inclusive, what, pray tell, is the problem with good ole' generic "he"? Likewise, his claim that "use of female generics would be felt in their guts by most men to refer to women only" ignores the use of such pronouns in a context where they are alternated with the masculine to indicate a non-sexist generic reference. His suggestion that "most men" would experience the feminine pronoun as a reference to women only while "canny male academics" know that "they too are really included because they know the game that is being played" strikes me as condenscending--as if the dumb non-academic gomers of the world don't recognize what's going with the alternated generic pronouns while we sophisticated domes are smart enough to get it and thereby plot and scheme to feel superior even while trying to appear fair and non-sexist. Again, nonsense. Both groups--gomers and domes--"know the game that is being played" and, again, this is as it should be.

I do appreciate Fromm pointing out a typo in the sentence he quotes about Said on the intellectual--as it reads, it does indeed sound stupid. The final pronoun should read "she." Somewhere along the cybernetic way (ebr's or mine, it doesn't matter), the initial "s" was lost. That Fromm takes what would have struck most people as very possibly a typo as an opporunity to accuse me of "unregenerated intent" and "total shibboleth-conformance" is, well, mean-spirited and a little bit ridiculous. I mean, who's being the "PC Thought Police" here--me, or Fromm, who is "unwilling to give the nod to crap"--that is, to any form of non-sexist pronoun use other than the single one he sees fit to approve? That sounds to me a lot like Jesse Helms holding forth on what is and isn't art. Yikes!

Indiana University


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