Tip of my hat to Stephen Colbert

I couldn’t help but share this clip from last night’s Colbert Report. In his ‘Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger’ segment, Colbert talks about new efforts to de-gender language found in textbooks. Terms like ‘Founding Fathers’ are being changed to ‘Founders’, and ‘Congressmen/women’ are now to be referred to as ‘members of congress’. Oh horror of horrors! Language that is neutral, effective and fair! Naturally, the folks over at Fox news aren’t too happy about this…and I quote:

Fox & Friends Host:”This is troubling. They just want to get rid of men, essentially, from the textbooks.”
Tucker Carlson: “Yeah, exactly.”

Have a look at the Colbert clip. And if you can stomach it, check out the Fox & Friends clip as well.

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by Briar Levit
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14 Comments Have Been Posted

..but there's nothing masculine about the word "man"


"Man" comes from "humanus" (earthling) which comes from "humus" (earth,soil). "Woman" just means feminine man. A masculine man would be "wereman".

I personally don't think women are so fragile that everything needs to be gender proofed.

Missing the point

With all respect -- and with reverence for a women's strength -- I think the commenter misses the point. Just as physicians used the male body as the model, and regarded women as the other, gendered language does the same. If it's male driven, it sets up the notion that men -- in power, as the default, etc. -- are the norm and that women, somehow, are an afterthought or exception. That's not man bashing -- God knows I love 'em -- but it does set up a zero sum game that's tough on both sexes. And becomes exclusionary. Little things are never little.


Amen, Christy. Couldn't have

Amen, Christy. Couldn't have said it better myself :)

Yes! But....

I do agree that the little things are never little, however, I don't think that our history should be entirely gender-proofed. That fact of the matter is, the Founding Fathers were that.... they were men, and we respect those men by using the word "fathers". If they were women, we could say mothers, but it just so happened that they were fathers. I think this specific instance may be taking it too far, however, I agree that words like "workmanship," and words that do apply to both men and women should be changed. Thanks for your comment, it was very well said!

"Just as physicians used the

"Just as physicians used the male body as the model, and regarded women as the other, gendered language does the same."

But "man" is gender neutral in its origin. Calling a male human a man is technically a misnomer. I know I feel smug when I point that out to people.

Yes, I am aware "man" has changed it's understood meaning and probably hasn't been used in it's originally form since before Shakespeare. But does this really do anything but make women look hypersensitive?

Even though "Person", "Founder", "Member of Congress", etc are considered gender neutral, is there any proof to believe people are <i>significantly</i> less likely to think of them as male by default? It would be interesting to test the hypothesis by asking college students (a social scientist's choice guinea pig) to draw "A Person" and see what they instinctively consider the default to be. It would also be interesting test if using these books a significant effect on whether it changes the default.


"It would be interesting to test the hypothesis by asking college students (a social scientist's choice guinea pig) to draw "A Person" and see what they instinctively consider the default to be. It would also be interesting test if using these books a significant effect on whether it changes the default."

And it never occurred to you that the reason people might think of a male when they hear the word "person" is directly RELATED to language and the way it has been male-focused for so long? Really?

All people come from women, and it has been theorized that fetuses begin as female, yet when most people see an animal whose gender they do not know, hey refer to it as a "he". You honestly think that has nothing to do with language? You think we're all just embedded with the instinct that "man" and "person" and "unknown gender" defaults to "he"? You might want to differentiate between your "instinct" and your "training".

I think this is a bit

I think this is a bit ridiculous. Are we going to have to change every single word with "man" in it? No more "manhandle"! Or "mankind"! I don't think it's erasing men, but it's changing language too drastically. And it's taking feminism and gender equality too far. Using the word "mankind" doesn't hurt me as a woman, and it's not holding/setting me back.

The Founders of this country were all men, so it's stupid to not say "Founding Fathers." Member of Congress is fine. Whatever. But for me, it's the principle of the matter. I think it's stupid of Fox News to be hysterical about it, and I think it's stupid that the textbook people felt the need to do this to be uber-politically correct. Words, for the most part, should be left alone.

Seconding the move to to de-gender words

Language is so very important in our world and I think it really has true effects on how we perceive and understand society. I completely agree with the commenters above about how, in our culture, men have been set up as the norm and women as the Other. For those of you who aren't familiar with the other, I'd suggest checking out (at least to start out with) Simone de Beauvoir's <i>The Second Sex</i>.

Sure, for a long time men were the only ones who served in Congress (i.e. Congressman) or were allowed to play most sports (sportsmanship), but with the change in culture, it actually <i>does</i> makes sense for changes in our language to follow to reflect the involvement of women.

I do admit I could be convinced to leave "Founding Fathers" as is - there truly were no names of women on the Declaration of Independence. And I get that man at its root has a significantly different meaning, but that's the beauty of language - it has the ability to morph over time to adapt to the cultures in which we live and I'm not really sure why people are so resistant to it. Perhaps it's in the same vein as the resistance to "let" women get involved in the first place?

Oh, Stephen Colbert...

I want to marry that man. I mean, person.

In response

Well said :)


I am really surprised so many commenters think this is "going too far." Language is vital to our perceptions.

It may be true that people still think of a man as the neutral figure, even when the word "person" is used. But at least with the word "person" we can *attempt* to change that perception. And we're talking about textbooks here, that children use. Ok, to get really idealistic for a second: isn't it possible that, if more women get seats in congress and children read "members of congress" instead of "congressmen," they might eventually be more inclined to see congress as a diverse group instead of as a group of men only?

And the phrase "Founding Fathers" is just ridiculous. This is not an "accurate" phrase. It's a needless metaphor that relies on the idea that this country is the "child" of benevolent patriarchs; it just reinforces patriarchal thought on a fundamental level. Well, now that I think of it, maybe it *is* accurate, since our nation *was* founded on patriarchal thought. But I have the feeling that's not what they're teaching in the third grade.

Changing language in textbooks to attempt greater gender neutrality does no harm and potentially does good. The reason women look "hypersensitive" about these things is because tv personalities like Tucker Carlson are looking to boost ratings by blowing the situation out of proportion and hysterically claiming that feminists are trying to take men out of history. *They* are the ones being ridiculous.

Agreed & as a matter of course...

According to News Hounds, in this interview Tucker refers to advice given to publishing professionals in a book called "Reflecting Diversity." This book was published in 1993, and I can't find any evidence that it is being re-released or anything that would make it suddenly newsworthy. I'm not trying to suggest the book is out of date, but remind yall to break out your extra strength media literacy skills when Fox News is concerned. If Fox News does anything well - and certainly it does not do news well - they're great at baiting people into tired old cultural debates. I would also point out that such a book has no real authority to "ban" any terminology used in textbooks, though Tucker's graphics may lead you to believe otherwise.

Stephen Colbert is one funny fatherfucker, though.

Gendered languages

Just as a point of interest, English as a language by and large is no longer a "gendered" language, with exceptions like blonde/blond (which is not so much in use anymore) or fiance/fiancee (from the French, of course.) Go back a few centuries and it was different, with middle and old English both gendered - from its Germanic roots. Most Western European languages are still gendered - for example, German assigns genders to nouns which then dictate the use of its definite or indefinite article.

in addition....

I think changing the language in textbooks is a good start but what I'm surprised no-one else has mentioned is the content of our textbooks. It is centered so fiercely around white males that growing up I didn't think anyone else did anything historically. I didn't learn about the women's movement until college. I think the curriculum needs to be diversified more than anything.

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