Saturday, April 5, 2008

The oldest--and weakest--defense of sexist language

I recently reported that Ana Ivanovic had received the unfortunately-named "Karen Krantzcke Sportsman of the Year" award from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Sexist language does not belong anywhere, but it is especially out of place in an organization which purports to fight for gender equality. I pointed out this mixed message to the tour, and received a reply that "'Sportswoman' is not a word."

Here is the text of the letter I sent back:

Of course it's a word...the insistence on using sexist language because the lexicon has always refused to acknowledge females is just one more way of advancing sexism. Any word with "man" in it can also be a word with "woman" in it.

Think back to the time--not that long ago--when we were told that there was no such word as "chairman." There was "no such word" because our culture could not imagine a female being in charge. Or think back to the time when we were told there was no such word as "policewoman" or "postwoman" or "repairwoman." Continuing to call a woman a man acknowledges a belief that male is the dominant gender; that is called sexism. Nothing is more important than language. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour--of all organizations--should be sensitive to the reality that the culture in general--including the sports media--treats women's sports as an afterthought. Calling women men advances that tradition. Calling Ivanovic a "sportsman" sends a very clear message that a sporting virtue is a male quality, and we all know that it is not.

And anyway, the tour does not have to do anything "innovative" to correct the problem. That is because the word "sportswoman" has been part of the official lexicon for some time. You will find it in all of the major dictionaries: Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, OE, Random House, etc. So even using a very narrow, literal definition--it is indeed a word
Sony Ericsson WTA Tour promoting gender equality--right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

women like you ruin the call to feminism