Thursday, January 8, 2009


This post at Shakesville reminds me of a story a substitute professor told me. He was a baby lecturer (his words) at Sydney Uni, in the 70s, the early days of Women's Lib. One day a young activist protested the use of the male pronoun as universal in the University handbook. It made it sound like all the students were male. The women students were feeling a little alienated. Don't be silly, said the male Dean, it's understood that the male pronoun is universal, and means men and women.

Now, this activist had a mate at the printing press, and when the next bunch of student handbooks went to print, there was one small difference. Oh sure, the book was still written with only one gender pronoun, it was just that - it was the female pronoun.

The Dean pitched a fit. How dare those feminists! It made it sound like his University only had female students! The horror! Don't be silly, said the activist, it's understood that there are students of both gender.

Of course, it wasn't understood. The Dean ordered the run of handbooks pulped. The activist's mate (and higher-ups who had failed to disapprove the change) were fired. But the activists won, because someone realised the Dean's hypocrisy. Obviously, it mattered, and the handbook started using both pronouns.

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