“WHO IS A GERWOMAN”?
The ascendancy of women in occupations previously dominated by men is brewing some headaches in nomenclature.
When I was in college ages ago, the head of a committee or of an academic department used to be called “chairman.” Then an intrepid crop of trailblazing women rose to those tasks and we began to say: “chairwoman,” “chairperson,” or just “chairman.” I believe we are still vacillating between those options. But then, at an animated campus round-table, I heard a feisty woman describe her field of study as “herstory.” Only the knowing smirks around the table revealed to me what she meant. Sure: If “history” is OK, why not “herstory” (or, really, “hertory”). Academic disciplines should give equal billing to women. Right? Well….
In my father’s time it was perfectly fine to say: “Everyone should speak his mind” and not worry that females were being excluded from speaking their minds. In my own time we hedged our bets and said, “Everyone should speak his or her mind.” Clumsy, yes, but it kept the feminists mollified. Later, the need for brevity AND gender-neutrality led to the ungrammatical but irresistibly succinct, “Everyone should speak their mind.”
The use of the masculine pronoun to represent the human race has been in retreat ever since. Some now even claim that God is a woman. Why not? When referring to the deity why don’t we stop using the pronoun “he” and replace with “it”?
And so we are now at a point where anything is possible. Recently a lady on television was introduced as an “ombudswoman” for Medicaid patients. OMBUDSMAN is not an English word; it comes from Swedish, and the “man” at the end of it does not really mean “male person.” One must wonder whether Swedes would approve of this overly creative adaptation of their word for a designated arbiter between government and citizen. Unfortunately, that silly coinage is enabled by no less an “authority” than the Yahoo Dictionary (dictionary.search.yahoo.com ), which, in this day and age, defines ombudsman as “a man who….” (Yahoo could simply have said “person” instead of “man.”)
If the trend continues we may end up calling Angela Merkel a “Gerwoman” instead of a German; and we may come to have both manpower and “womanpower” in the American workforce, all under the leadership of managers and “womanagers.”
Who is responsible for the coinage of new English words, anyway?
Come on, guys (and girls?): Do you have an instance of feminist nomenclature gone too far, or not far enough? Want to share it with us?