by Peter Zohrab

e-published by permission of the Author

1. Introduction

Every adult native speaker of English is probably by now aware of the standard Feminist line on "sexist language" - in names for occupations, in particular. One example of this espousal by governments of the Feminist line on sexist language is the booklet "Watch Your Language" (New Zealand State Services Commission 1990).

This booklet suggests, for example, replacing the words on the left with the words on the right:

tradesmanskilled worker
milkmanmilk vendor
fireman firefighter

(and so on)

The main reason given for this enforced change of vocabulary is that using an occupational term with male overtones discriminates against women, by implying that it applies only to men. This apparently discourages women from applying for such positions, and it makes it less likely that anyone would hire them for these sorts of jobs.

The State Services Commission booklet cites research which indicates that males and females take more interest in job- advertisements if the occupational term is gender-neutral, than if it seems to include the opposite sex only. This seems to me to be a fair enough argument.

But many of the occupations involved are not attractive to most women, so the name changes may seem to some people to be a waste of time, effort and money. It is not as if all mainly-male occupations are better paid and more attractive than all mainly- female occupations! A lot of them are dirty, dangerous, and poorly-paid. Many more men die in job-related accidents than do women.

The money spent teaching people to use new words might perhaps be better used enforcing workplace safety in male- dominated industries. It would be nice if enough money could be spent on both, but the sexist Feminist lobby is usually strong enough to block much money being spent on purely male problems.

2. Feminist Sexism

The Feminist campaign to eliminate sexist language does not apply only to occupational terms. For example, New Zealand has a former Labour Party Prime Minister, David Lange, who apparently considers it clever to refer to God as "she". I very much doubt that he calls the Devil "she" as often as he calls God "she". Feminists are usually quite happy to keep the negative-sounding words sounding masculine. It fits in with their sexist prejudices.

Feminists think it is OK to use a sexist word like "gunman", because the only people it disadvantages is men - - it makes it look as if all people who use guns aggressively are men. On the other hand, you are not allowed to say "slaughterman" or "chairman", because that discriminates against women -- it might make it look as if women were less suitable than men for those positions. How many women actually want to, or do have such occupations is deemed to be irrelevant. So it should also be irrelevant how many women actually use guns aggressively.

Feminists don't seem to worry about a man being called a "hunk". Advertisers are terrified of Feminist pressure groups, so television is full of references to "hunks". Seldom, if ever, do you hear slang words for women, such as "birds" or "chicks", on television. That is one example of the Establishment's double standard on sexist language. It is more than just a slip, or an accidental inconsistency.

Feminists in the Establishment are determined to prop up the myth that only women -- never men -- are oppressed in New Zealand society, and other western societies. This is an ideological commitment, and it would be undermined if men were to complain successfully of sexual discrimination. This is why Feminists in Television New Zealand, TV3, and the Broadcasting Standards Authority seem to be so determined to hold the line and reject all complaints by men against the excesses of Feminism.

3. Pro-Men Activism

I have been carrying out my own campaign to eliminate the double-standard that some TV stations operate under, as far as sexist language in general is concerned. The New Zealand Code of Broadcasting Practice bans the portrayal of people in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against sections of the community on account of sex.

Because I knew about this Code, I wrote to TVNZ and TV3 to complain of the sexist use of the word "gunman" in one of their news programmes. I suggested that they should use the word "gunperson". These companies have a policy on sexist language, but it only applies to words that discriminate against women. In other words, their actual policy on sexist language discriminates against men.

Some stations avoid words (such as "actress"), that Feminists object to -- but they continue to use sexist words like "gunman", instead of gender-neutral alternatives, such as "gunperson", "gunner", or "shooter". If a word is derogatory to men, they are perfectly happy to use it. This is despite the fact that there are books on nonsexist language, (e.g."The Nonsexist Communicator: solving the problems of gender and awkwardness in modern English" Prentice-Hall, 1983), which proposes the use of gender-neutral alternatives to "gunman".

The difference is that Feminists want women to be thought of as potential "chairpersons", and so on, but they are quite happy for only men to be thought of as potential "gunmen", because this word has negative overtones. Feminists often say that they only want equality, but in issues such as sexist language, it is obvious that this is a lie. Feminists are just a women's pressure-group, and they should be regarded accordingly.

Both TV3 and TVNZ rejected my complaint. TVNZ said that the word "gunman" was simply factual and descriptive. The person who carried out the shooting did so with a gun, and he was a man. They said that they avoided words like "actress", "waitress", and "hostess", because the gender of the person was not relevant to the occupation. At no time did they try to explain why it was relevant to say that a gunperson was male, rather than female.

But it would also be "factual" and "descriptive" to describe Audrey Hepburn, for example, as an "actress" -- but Television New Zealand have recently introduced a policy under which she would be referred to as an "actor". That is less factual and less descriptive than the word "actress", because Audrey Hepburn was a member of the acting profession, and she was also a woman.

Television New Zealand deliberately censor the fact that she was a woman, despite the fact that a large part of the appeal of most actors and actresses is in fact their sex appeal. In fact, I find it offensive to hear attractive actresses referred to as "actors", which is a term properly referring to males.

TV3 gave a rather confused argument for rejecting the complaint. But basically they said that few male NZers would have been denigrated by the use of the word "gunman", and that it was purely an "academic" argument.

But the word "gunman" denigrates all males, because it implies that only men go around killing people with guns. This is just like the word "chairman", which Feminists say discriminates against (all) women, because it implies that only men chair meetings. The whole policy on sexist language originated as an academic argument. The point is that, where it suited Feminists, it has been implemented in the real world.

I referred my complaints against TVNZ and TV3 to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. The form on which you do this gives you the option of asking to put your case in person, so I did make a request to present my argument face-to-face. This request was refused, with no reason given.

The Authority rejected my whole argument as irrelevant. Moreover, at the suggestion of TVNZ, it exercised its powers under the Broadcasting Act to rule my complaint out of order on the grounds that it was "trivial".

>From its beginnings in early 1990 to early May 1993, the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority dealt with 256 formal decisions. Consistently, in every single case, the decision was signed by "Iain Galloway, Chairperson". Why is it so important for them to say "chairperson" instead of "chairman", and so trivial that television employees say "gunman" instead of "gunperson" ?

It is obvious that the Authority itself does not consider the question of sexist language to be "trivial". If they did, Mr. Galloway would sometimes have signed himself "Chairman", sometimes "Chair", and sometimes "Chairperson". His absolute consistency on this point shows that the Authority took sexist language very seriously indeed -- unless it discriminates only against men.

4. Sexist Language in Chinese

Feminism and the Internet have one thing in common: the language which they both use most of the time is English. This may not always be the case in the future. I'd like to take a look at the issue of "sexist language" in languages other than English -- starting with Chinese.

In Chinese, occupational terms are mostly constructed by adding a gender-neutral suffix (such as "yuan", "ren", or "jia") onto the end of a word that names the activity or sphere that the job involves. For example,

shou huo (sell goods)shouhuoyuan (shop assistant)
gong (labour, industry)gongren (manual worker)
zuo (do, compose)zuojia (author)

If you want to specify the sex of the person concered, in Chinese, you actually have to add an extra word.

I don't know what Chinese-speaking Feminists have been saying about their language, but I'd expect that there are some theses lying around somewhere that examine Chinese characters from a Feminist point of view.

Just to show that Masculists can play that game, too, I'd like to look at the conventional analysis of the very common character which means "good" (pronounced "hao"). This is traditionally said to have originated as a combination of the character for "woman", on the left, and the character for "child", on the right. Some scholars disagree with this analysis, but this is only an example of the kind of analysis that a Masculist might undertake, and so my present argument does not depend on the rights and wrongs of this particular analysis.

This composition of ideas, if correctly analysed, is quite clearly sexist. It reflects and promotes a mindset which must tend to disadvantage men in custody battles, as it implies that the natural place for a child is with its mother. Even if this analysis of the character is not historically correct, the fact that this is the popularly accepted analysis reflects the thinking of contemporary Chinese-speaking society. The historical analysis, after all, would only state something about sexism in earlier generations, and it is current anti-male sexism that must concern us, as it is too late to change the past ! A non- sexist version of the character would have the character for "human being" on the left, instead of the character for "woman", of course.

5. Sexist Language in German

German is closely related to English, but one relevant difference between the two languages is the standard German ending "-in", which you can put onto the end of any relevant masculine noun, in order to make it Feminine.

For example:

         ENGLISH           GERMAN           GERMAN
                      (masculine)       (feminine)

         rancher           Viehzuechter     Viehzuechterin
         student              Student              Studentin

        ranchers          Viehzuechter    Viehzuechterinnen
        students            Studenten          Studentinnen

German-speaking Feminists tend to take an opposite line to English-speaking Feminists. Whereas English-speaking Feminists tend to see occupational terms ending in "-er" or "-or" as gender-neutral, German-speaking Feminists tend to see occupational terms not ending in "-in" as specifically masculine.

This difference between English and German linguistic Feminism presumably arises because the "-in" ending is so much more common in German as a Feminine marker than any one particular ending is in English. Consequently, German- speaking Feminists tend to prefer to see some version of the feminine "-in" ending, in the singular, (or something similar to "-in", in the plural) in such words, in order to make women "visible" in the denoted occupations.

The main problem comes in the plural. This is, of course, because plural nouns for occupations can refer to mixed groups of men and women. Nonsexist language would need to be neutral as between men and women in the plural, for this reason. The plural form (as can be seen from the table above) is very different as between Masculine and Feminine forms, in that the Feminine form always ends in "-innen", whereas the masculine plural may have a range of different endings, depending on the noun in question.

What German-speaking and English-speaking Feminists have in common is that they tend to consider only what women want - - what men might prefer is, in most cases, not taken into account. As a result, the trendiest solution in German these days is to use the artificial device of a capital "I", in the middle of such words, to mark the start of the supposedly gender-neutral plural form that some Feminists have been trying to introduce into the German language, e.g.:

                             SINGULAR                     PLURAL

MASCULINE:        Viehzuechter                Viehzuechter
FEMINIST:                         ViehzuechterInnen
FEMININE:                        Viehzuechterinnen

This Feminist "solution" incorporates both the Masculine and Feminine forms in the one word. That seems like a good idea, in principle, but the reality is that the written versions end up looking much more similar to the Feminine forms than to the Masculine forms. The only difference is the capital "I", which replaces a lower-case "i". In spoken German, the new forms are virtually the same as the Feminine forms. So this solution is totally unacceptable, from a Men's Rights point of view. It goes too far in the opposite direction to the status quo and does not represent a golden mean or compromise.

6. Self-Centred Feminism

At the start of her article, "Warum das Deutsche keine Maennersprache ist (Why German is not a Man's Language)", which I downloaded from the World Wide Web (, Britta Hufeisen promises:

    "Im folgenden soll auf der Ebene der Sprachsystematik versucht werden zu zeigen, dass wir der Diskussion auf einer Ebene, die Individuum und sprachwissenschaft- liche Dimensionen vereint, eine neue Einigungsgrund- lage verschaffen koennten. TRANSLATION: Below I try to show, at the level of Linguistic systems, that we could give the discussion (about sexist language in German) a new basis for unity (between Feminists and their opponents) by carrying it out at a level which brings together the individual and Linguistic dimensions."

Unfortunately, she does not carry out her promise -- to my satisfaction, at least.

After three relatively lengthy preliminary sections, which consist largely of a discussion of examples, she finally gets to her (comparatively brief) Linguistic argument, which does not really depend on anything contained in the previous sections:

    "Dass Sprache Welt/Gesellschaft widerspiegelt/widerspiegeln soll, zeigt sich z.B. am Duden der damaligen DDR, in dem die Komposita "Weltreise" und "Meinungsfreiheit" nicht aufgefuehrt waren. Sprache widerspiegelt Machtverhaeltnisse/Herrschaftsverhaeltnisse." TRANSLATION:"That language reflects/is meant to reflect the world/society is shown e.g. by the Duden (a standard dictionary) of the then GDR (East Germany), in which the (German)compounds (for)"world trip" and "freedom of expression" did not occur. Language reflects power relationships/governance relationships."

I certainly agree with her on this, but I don't agree with what she implies when she goes on to say that there are countless examples that show that men are the ones who have the upper hand. I don't mean that such examples don't exist -- I just mean that examples also exist that show a radically different picture. Feminist researchers have not been looking for them such examples, however, and so they have, quite naturally, not found them.

For example, my copy of the 1974 edition of the Pocket Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "sexism" as follows:

    "sexism ... n : prejudice or discrimination against women"

This definition, by ignoring the possibility that men can also be victims of sexism, reflects the political reality that Feminists, in western countries, have convinced their societies that women are victims-by-definition. Behind this impressive academic facade of victimhood, Feminists have been amassing fantastic power, by exploiting the media coverage and reforming legislation that official victimhood status automatically brings with it in liberal democracies. So that dictionary entry reflects the fact that in America, amongst other countries, women are Establishment victims, and their rights and interests are furthered at the expense of men's (which are not officially deemed even to exist).

Now we come to what appears to be the core of Hufeisen's argument. I say "appears", because this core seems remarkably sketchy, in comparison with the wealth of detailed examples of "sexist language" she provides in earlier sections:

	"Linguistisch kommt es jedoch darauf an, wer sich 		
	angesprochen fuehlt: Wer sich bei der Bezeichnung 		
	'Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter' oder 				
	'Assistenzprofessor' als nicht gemeint empfindet, so 	
	ist der Sprechakt nicht gelungen, auch wenn der Person
	von seiten der Verwaltung versichert wird, sie sei 	
	TRANSLATION: "(However) linguistically speaking, the 	
	issue is who feels addressed:  If someone does not 	
	feel that the term 'Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter' or
	'Assistenzprofessor' means them, then the speech act 	
	has not succeeded, even if the person is assured by 	
	Management that she is 'meant to be included'."

and later:

	"Wenn ich als Sprachteilhaberin ein sprachliches 		
	Zeichen so interpretiere, dass es auf mich nicht 		
	zutrifft, so ist das aus pragmatischer Sicht eine 		
	voellig legitime Entscheidung. GegnerInnen dieser 		
	Sicht koennen anderer Meinung sein, sie koennen jedoch
	nicht (fuer mich) entscheiden, ob ich mitgemeint bin 	
	oder nicht. Diese Perspektive loest das Problem 		
	keineswegs, aber nimmt der Diskussion zumindest die 	
	Polemik, indem sie die Sprachbetrachtung auf eine 		
	individuelle Ebene bringt."
	TRANSLATION:  "If I as a participant in language 		
	interpret a linguistic sign in such a way that it 		
	doesn't apply to me, then, from a Pragmatic point of 	
	view, that is a completely legitimate decision.  		
	Opponents of this view can be of a different opinion,
	but\they can't decide (for me) if I am meant as well 	
	or not.  There's no way that this perspective solves 	
	the problem, but at least it removes the polemics from
	the discussion, by bringing the observation of 		
	language onto an individual level."

Unfortunately, there are two major problems with this approach: The first problem is that this (for Feminists) typically self-centred approach sets the whole of Society free anarchically to decide for themselves what they will choose to understand by words and phrases. For example, I could point out that I do not feel included or "meant" in neologisms such as "LehrerInnen", which seems far too close to the Feminine form to include men such as myself.

The second problem is that this perspective is far too narrow: It omits completely the perspectives of speaker/writer and hearers/listeners other than the person who is referred to (or intended to be referred to). These others also have linguistic rights, and they can -- and in fact often do -- converse about someone behind their backs, without the slightest need to worry about whether the person they are talking about would accept the terms used to refer to him/her.

So this analysis does not succeed at all in taking the polemics out of the discussion, because what we now have is, in effect, a unilateral and self-centred declaration of independence of the part of one Feminist, who states that she will refuse to accept certain terms as meaning what they are intended to mean -- even though she knows quite well what they are intended to mean.

Language, on the whole, is a cooperative endeavour, and this Feminist (in her capacity as a language participant) is "going on strike", as it were, in the hope that persistence and constant pressure will eventually force everyone else to see things her way. I suppose it is her right to do this, and she may even succeed in her aim, but it is a very political act, and other language-users will react to this, or ignore it, as they see fit.

Hufeisen goes on to say:

	"Betrachten wir das Ganze also aus der semiotischen 	
	Perspektive, so koennen wir feststellen, dass unser 	
	Problem kein sprachsystematisches ist, denn die 		
	deutsche Sprache hat bis auf ganz wenige lexikalische
	und syntaktische Luecken Bestaende zur Bezeichnung 	
	fuer Frauen."
 	TRANSLATION: "If we look at the whole issue from the 	
	semiotic perspective, therefore, we can ascertain that
	our problem is not one of structural linguistics, as 	
	the German language, apart from a very few lexical and
	syntactic gaps, has the resources for the 			
	characterisation of women."

That is certainly true -- in the sense that any natural language can presumably be amended sufficiently to express any systematic or ad hoc concepts that people require it to. The real question is how necessary, extensive, and acceptable the required changes would be in any particular case. It is also true, as we have seen, that the German language, as presently constituted, does NOT have the resources to produce a gender-neutral ending for plural nouns that is phonologically and graphemically equidistant from the masculine and feminine forms.

This being the case, we have to reevaluate the need for any Feminist change at all, as there is no point in producing a situation which is apparently unbalanced in favour of women, as a replacement for one that is said to be unbalanced in favour of men !

7. Conclusion

Here is a passage from the Feminist book, Woman's Consciousness, Man's World, by Sheila Rowbotham (1973, Baltimore: Penguin Books):

    "The language of theory - removed language - only expresses a reality experienced by the oppressors. It speaks only for their world, from their point of view. Ultimately a revolutionary movement has to break the hold of the dominant group over theory, it has to structure its own connections. Language is part of the political and ideological power of rulers." (pp.32-33)
The language of Gender Politics is overwhelmingly the language of the Radical Feminists. It expresses mainly the reality that Feminists feel that they experience. It speaks only for their world, from their point of view. They, with their Women's Studies Departments, their Feminist-dominated media, and their Ministries of Women's Affairs - THEY are the oppressors.

Most decision-makers are indeed men, but they make decisions according to their beliefs and information -- and their beliefs and information on gender issues come largely from these Feminist sources. On gender issues, western countries are one-party states.

Ultimately a revolutionary Men's Movement has to break the hold of the Feminists over Gender theory, it has to structure its own connections. Language is part of the political and ideological power of our Feminist-inspired rulers.

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