Monday, June 18, 2007

Tyranny of the Pronouns

This article from the opinion journal about recent student and alumni uprisings brought to mind a story my wife once told me from her college experience, many years ago.

One day in class the professor (a male) decided to lecture them on the repressive use of pronouns in the English language. He was abjectly apologizing to the female students and wishing out loud that someone would invent a special generic pronoun to destroy this patriarchal tyranny.

Several students joined in as well, whining about the bias of the general use of “he” in general writing, instead of the more acceptable “s/he” or the more general “they,” and the terrible oppression of the word “man” for the human race.

Eventually, the whining drone grew so loud that my wife could stand it no longer and decided to make a comment, something terribly out of character for her.

“I don’t agree at all,” she said, to gasps of horror. The teacher wanted to know why she would eschew victimhood. “When you use the male pronouns, you never know if it’s somebody specific or somebody general. But when you say ‘she’, then you know for sure it’s a woman. The female pronoun is special. It’s different. The male pronoun is general. It’s boring. If anybody’s being discriminated against, it’s men, because they’re being cheapened. I’ll never use general pronouns, even if one got invented, because I like to be special.”
Nobody knew what to say. Finally, the professor mumbled “Well, I suppose you could see it that way.” Then he quickly changed the subject and went on to something else.