For the sake of language

He or she must ask himself or herself whether his or her sense of style could ever allow himself or herself to write like this.

~Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

5 Responses

  1. Sometimes a person must ask themselves, if I really am so smart, how can I not manage to create a stylish statement which doesn’t exclude half the population?

    Altho Dawkins uses the example to highlight the exclusion of women through language….

  2. 1) English is gender biased. Choose which you want to favor.

    2). “Themselves” lacks all manner of style. For the reason it does not work, please see point #1.

  3. Ach well, I guess style is so entirely subjective its not really worth debating…folk disagree and there’s no way of mediating.

    The point Dawkins acknowledges is a good one tho… (if slightly irritating in tone) and its not an insurmountable problem if you want to be inclusive. Humankind etc. Swapping between he/she works, and is less exclusionary. Acknowledging the issue at least is a start.

  4. Right, I agree that his point is a good one. I didn’t give context here, but he argues that this evolution in language has raised our consciousness towards the plight of women. That’s a good thing, but I was happy to see him dismiss silly terms like “herstory” in place of “history”.

    My personal motivation behind posting this is probably too high a concern for language. I think the out-of-the-way use of “she”, “her”, etc, can come off gaudy in many situations. It can work in plenty of contexts too, but when the issue has nothing to do with equality, it can draw attention from the main point. Maybe that’s an unfortunate piece of reality, but it remains that one has to decide between politics and style. Personally, I want my politics to be present in substance; I want my style to transcend topics, issues, and subjects.

  5. I don’t think he dismissed exactly, although I see how it can be read that way. He recognised the impact it had, ‘herstory’ suddenly highlighted the extent to which ‘history’ was selective, and missed out the narrative of a lot of people. It did so to an extent he takes it as a guiding principle.

    I guess I just find your motivation for posting strange then. That the primacy of style, for you takes above people trying to make an important political point.

    As it happens I’m not a massive fan of the term ‘herstory’. I very much respect those who used it to make a point, most of whom were well aware of the etymology and were using it as a pun, to make a point. Now I feel like feminists need to be in there rewriting history better, so it includes all peoples experience. Herstory has served its purpose for the moment.

    I would argue that there is no way to divorce politics from style. Politics shapes your style. When I say evolved rather than created, I’m making a point. When you refer to men rather than people, him instead of her, I have to question whether you’re talking about something that involves me, or deliberately excludes me. Or incidentally whether, because of that you’re actually worth listening to…

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