Just because a word contains M-A-N, does that automatically mean it refers to a specific gender? If you’re championing the cause of “non-sexist” language, you bet it does.
It’s called “gendered” language and to rational, reasonable people, the argument against it is silly. “All men are created equal” does not refer to one gender. “Mankind” “humanity,””freshman,” “man-made” — these are words that are inclusive of the (excuse me) human race, male and female. For hundreds of years, their meaning has been understood completely by all English speaking people.
But it doesn’t matter that these words do not refer specifically to the male gender. They sound like they do, ergo, they have to go.
This disease has even infected the upper echelons of power in the western world. Here’s Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau correcting a questioner who dared use the term “mankind.” Best-selling author of the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos responds:
Academics can do whatever they want on campus. If they want to make it illegal to use words that sound like they’re gender specific, even when their meaning clearly is not, they have a perfect right to make up words and force their students to use them in language, whether written or spoken.
But language is evolutionary, not revolutionary. You can’t use brute force to change the meaning of words after they have been hard wired into our brains since we started speaking at a young age. So in the end, this drive to provide “gender neutral” language will fail as badly as New Coke.