Originally Posted by QuantumIguana
I didn't miss anything. I think these two points are closely related. Society used to be much more sex-segregated. When talking about doctors and nurses, people would often use the generic "he" for doctors, but the generic "she" for nurses. It used to be a pretty good assumption that your doctor was a man and your nurse was a woman. That assumption is bolstered by the assumptions of the language makes. It wasn't a change in language that caused more women to become doctors and more men to become nurses, the reduction of sex-segregation barriers made the assumption that your doctor was a man and your nurse a woman increasingly absurd.
You're arguing for popular usage based on the anecdotal -- that nurses were referred to as she
and doctors he
in conversations in which people made assumptions about those professions. What you're clearly, utterly and blatantly missing is the distinction between popular usage and technically correct pronouns based on a synecdochic substitution.
It is now illogical to assume that nurses are women and doctors men, but it is neither illogical nor incorrect (however offensive some might find it) to use he
as a gender-indeterminate pronoun.
This is because, in many languages, the female gender is semantically marked
, the male, assumed. Linguistically, female-gendered language is often treated as a kind of exception to or deviation from the "dominant default" (linguists' term, not mine), i.e., the unmarked language which is nearly always the male-gendered and therefore the indeterminate-gendered.
Sexism becomes quite difficult to unthread when it is interwoven inextricably into the structure of a given language.
Popular usage has no bearing on correct English unless and until it is adopted as a standard. He
is still the correct pronoun technically (despite giving the impression the person who uses it is sexist). It has never been technically correct to identify
a group of people of both genders as belonging to a single gender. Never in the history of English has it been acceptable to say, "God made Adam and Eve, therefore he made only one sex." However, it is often said that God made man
in His image.
That is because man and mankind are also synecdochic, and for the same reason that he
is synecdochic. One could even argue that He
is synecdochic (a presumption of gender with regard to God themselves
(ouch! -- let's not do that again!)), and there we enter into discussions of the inherent sexism in language.
Things could be worse in terms of unmarked
(i.e., male-normative) language -- we could be speaking French. But then again, one doesn't find many French people attempting to strip gender from French nouns.
Originally Posted by WT Sharpe
How do you pronounce that?
WT Sharpe: s/he
is pronounced s-slash-he
. In terms of pronounced syllables, it turns out to be no shorter than she or he
The issue with s/he
is not only the clumsiness in conversation but the limited applicability of that solution in any form. Try the same thing with her
and you'll see what I mean (i.e., h/e/i/r/m