I recently reread Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If—”. And it reminded me of an online encounter I had with some feminists. The beautiful poem ends with this:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
If those feminists could have their way, reprints of Kipling’s poem will be forced to add a few words to the last line: “And—which is more you’ll be a Man, my son, and a Woman, my daughter!”
Kipling had a son and a daughter, but “If—” was written as paternal advice to his son John. It was written in the Victorian era, which was a much more patriarchal society than today. And it might seem like an exaggeration that feminists today will want such a change made to a great work of literature, but may be it isn’t.
Even today many such feminists scoff at The Economist Style Guide‘s use of “he” over “he or she”. It says on political correctness:
If you believe it is “exclusionary” or insulting to women to use he in a general sense, you can rephrase some sentences in the plural. But…do not be ashamed of sometimes using man to include women, or making he do for she.
I have been on one occasion publicly asked to change “the common man” to a more gender neutral term “the people on the streets”. Something I didn’t really have any strong views about and was happy to oblige to making the change.
That incident did make me think that it’s important to pick your battles when fighting for a good cause. I care deeply about the rights of women, and as an Indian I feel ashamed at the monstrous acts committed against them every day in my country. In my personal life, I work consciously to keep my biases in check. This year I sat down with my extended family to talk about how much more an educated and well-off family like ours still needs to do to help the cause. But I wonder why some feminists make such trivial things their pet peeves. Aren’t there more important feminist issues to worry about than this?
3 thoughts on “Let us pick our battles, feminists”
Thanks for this. First of all it’s key to say that we can agree that this issue is not one of the most important ones, but we can still argue it’s important.
Personally (as white straight cis man) I do think this issue is important. The reason is that if a woman goes through their whole life seeing “he” used for a generic (say) journalist, she might find a sense of otherness and start to think that journalist is not something that she can be. Or people hiring journalists might have this sense, even unconsciously.
I agree with those who think the Economist style guide an inappropriate resource for this, it seems to be stuck in some kind of time warp. On titles it says “Ms is permissible though ugly. Avoid it if you can. To call a woman Miss is not to imply that she is unmarried, merely that she goes by her maiden name. Married women who are known by their maiden names—eg, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benazir Bhutto, Jane Fonda—are therefore Miss, unless they have made it clear that they want to be called something else.” To say that it is permissible to call somebody Miss Fonda if they are married and wish to be called Ms Fonda is pretty shocking to me. And other than the economist I’ve literally never heard this line that Miss means using maiden name.
Anyway once again, thanks for the thoughtful post. If you can fight on the other issues which you regard as more important, that will be wonderful.
Sorry, just reread the Economist thing and it does say not if they have made it clear they wish to be called something else. But still don’t agree it’s appropriate to call a married woman Miss.
What started as a cause for women to attain equal and human rights in the eighteenth century has turned into something that deviated away from it. Now, feminism has so many (fatuous) branches making it a superfluous label used by women who have nothing better to do other than to compare themselves incessantly to men.
I am ALL for Women’s Rights (and equal rights) but I’m anti-feminism. Language/writing should not be sucked into the “feminist ideology” (or the chauvinist) especially when it’s redundant to do so. (Political correctness is another terminology that’s just wearing thin devoid of any true meaning.) There are far more important issues that “feminists” can channel their energy into.
Nice post (^_^)