Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sexism and language

Does it make me sexist if I use "mankind" or "chairman" instead of "humanity" and "chairperson"? I think it does not and I have reasons to believe it. 

Hindustani is less sexist than English. "Vo hai." in Hindustani can either mean "He is." or "She is." Feminists may take delight in the fact that English "he" and "she" are translated as "vo" in Hindustani. So when I say "vo pagal hai." there is no way to know if I am questioning "his" or "her" sanity - unless there is a context.

Does the use of "vo" makes Hindustani speakers less sexist than English speakers? I do not think. The inability of men to consider women as their equal - even many women have been indoctrinated by this propaganda - points out to how sexist the current Indian (and Pakistani) society is.

Let me support this argument from these two true incidents: 

(1) Friend one: I saw your sister there.
Friend two: And?
Friend one: You are a man. You ought to know what women are doing.
Friend two: I don't care. They have got brains. I don't know where my cousin brothers are.
Friend one: I am not talking about boys. Your sister is a woman.
Friend two: So what? Don't you think they are equal to men?
Friend one: Of course they are, but women are easier to fool. They need constant guidance from men.

Friend one is a government officer.

(2) Woman one: You people like only used things. 
Man one: What do you mean by used things? 
Woman one: Zahil has a new girl friend. That woman was someone else girl friend a months ago. 
Man one: So?
Woman one: I don't understand why you people fall for second-hand objects
Man one: She is not a "thing" or an "object." 
Woman one: Whatever! Can't you people find something fresh? 

Woman one is a post graduate in econmics and a teacher. 

I am not using names even though I know all the participants in these conversations very well. They are normal people - and somewhat liberal. Friend one in the first conversation will gladly wear the robe of a communist if it comes to his salary. Woman one is a die-hard liberal, when it comes to her rights. This is stupid. Everyone wants freedom, but only for themselves.(Here I go again!)

Anyway, let's return to our topic - "does exclusion of sexist words makes a society less-sexist?" I think "no." I think it has more to do with education and development than some tweaking with language.

Until a hundred years ago, there was only one word - 他 (ta1) - in Chinese for "he" and "she." And I have read that society was so sexist a century ago that if a man were to knock at door, a woman would reply "There is no one home." Women did not even consider themselves human. I can still witness women saying the same thing here in this part of India - a part whose language does not even differentiate between "he" and "she."