Published online May 11, 2016
My friend and classmate David Galef ’81 canvasses some recent gender-related linguistic changes (essay, March 2). I’d like to add some thoughts.
1. There is a crucial difference between organic language changes – those that spontaneously arise, like “It’s me” or neologisms like “spamming” – and those forced upon language as “part of a social program,” as Dave puts it. Exalting a person’s subjective self-definition over the objective reality of biological, genetic sex differences, like calling the former Bruce Jenner a “she,” is an example of manipulation of language in the service of ideology. As Dave acknowledges, these linguistic changes aim “to dissolve a sexual binary” – i.e., fundamentally to alter the way people think about sex differences. Is anyone asking if “the people” want to have this new ideology imposed upon them in the name of grammar?
2. To call gender “part of a continuum” (Princeton Latino/a Association’s description, which Dave quotes) destroys the meaning of the word “continuum.” Yes, there are very rare instances of human beings with a third sex chromosome (i.e., not just XX for females and XY for males) or ambiguous genitalia. There are also ligers and tigons, but does that mean there is a continuum between lions and tigers?
3. The transgender movement inherently entails sex-stereotyping (as some feminist critics have noted). What does it mean for a man to be “a woman on the inside”? Since the contrary physical signs – DNA and gonads – apparently do not count for anything, the notion seems to be that a woman, and only a woman, would feel a certain way, or want to wear certain clothes, etc.; therefore, someone who has those feelings or preferences must actually be a woman. Likewise, a biological woman who has a strong masculine outlook – whatever that is – supposedly cannot really be a woman. How is this not chauvinism?
George Orwell observed that thought can corrupt language. And, we can add, an agenda can conscript grammar.