Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Founding Fathers" Banned from History Textbooks

Well, it's not as bad as it sounds, but in my opinion it's bad nevertheless. Major publishers of textbooks are looking into making the language completely gender neutral.

When I was in school we learned that in cases of unknown gender the male version was to be used. So you might say "A student should use his time wisely" if speaking of a student who could be male or female. I suppose that is unfair in a way, but it results in more compact language and simpler structure. Some improperly use the plural version: "A student should use their time wisely" would be silly, and could be handled easily enough with "Students should use their time wisely."

So the word "caveman" would be replace with "cave dweller" for example. That's logical enough, because in the case of those folks we know there were both men and women.

Many Christian denominations are doing similar work on the Bible. References to Him (God) are replaced with "God." So "God so loved the world that He have His only begotten Son" would become "God so loved the world that God gave God's only begotten Son." That sounds a bit awkward to me, but I can get over it because God is presented in the Bible as neither male nor female in ultimate makeup, and God is, after all, a special case.

But sometimes we know full well the gender of the subject(s). Jesus was a man. It would be cumbersome to replace "Jesus said to his disciples..." with "Jesus said to Jesus' disciples..." He was God's only son, and we know that, so we don't need to say God's only child.

In the case of the Founders of our nation, we are generally talking about men. That is not to deny the role many women played, but usually the phrase is intended to mean the people who wrote/signed the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and other documents; and people who were the most active leaders in our early history. All those people were men. "Founding Fathers" does not seem like a potentially confusing phrase regarding gender. Like it or not, that is our history.

If you wish to speak of a future President of the United States, then using gender neutral language makes sense. Even though every POTUS so far has been male, we expect that a woman will someday change that.

But in history, when gender WAS exclusive in certain contexts, it is less effective to use gender neutral language. Just as we should know that our history included slavery, we should know that our nation's foundations were written by men.

See the Fox Nation report below:
Gender Neutral Language

1 comment:

Hmm... said...

I understand your point that it was a historical fact that those who signed the founding documents were men. However, the reason they were men was because they, and society in general, repressed women. So, they were founding "fathers" because of sexism, which of course is also a historical fact. However, there is no need to use "fathers." It adds nothing, but to highlight the fact that society was sexist at the time (for those who make the connection), but most commonly it reinforces the idea that founders and people of social importance are men, which is repressive to female today.