jasonbwatson

September 17, 2013

Word Games

Several weeks ago I wrote about the stupidity of so many of the labels that we tend to get hung up on these days, specifically when it comes to referring to people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. Apparently the same stupidity exists among some people concerned about the very way in which the human race is addressed. Washington State has recently implemented legislation that uses gender-neutral vocabulary within the state’s laws. This would be silly but otherwise not worthy of notice if it simply meant adding “or her” and “she” to every “his” or “he.” Washington, though, was not content to simply make these little additions. Instead, the legislation brings to a conclusion a–get this–six year process of rewriting the state’s laws to ensure that they are all gender neutral to the point that contain virtually no reference to man or men at all, even when those words are gender neutral.

For example, the newly re-worded Washington legal codes will no longer make any reference to a signalman, journeyman plumbers, penmanship, fishermen or freshman. Instead, the laws now reference signal operators, journey-level plumbers, handwriting, fishers and first-year students.

Democratic state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle was the bill’s sponsor. Of her 475-page bill she told Reuters, “There’s no good reason for keeping our legal terms anachronistic and with words that do not respect our current contemporary times.” Give me a break… I think it would be far more accurate to say that there is no good reason to devote six years and multiple pieces of legislation to play such stupid word games. Washington’s legislators must have absolutely nothing important to do if they can devote so much time and money to this idiocy. Perhaps they could do themselves and their constituents a favor and disband the state legislature if that is all they have to do.

Kyle Thiessen, the state’s code reviser, was quoted in Huffington Post as saying that some words will not be replaced because there is simply no logical alternative. What else, for example, would you call a man hole? A person hole? A man or woman hole? A human hole? And apparently the state’s Washington Military Department objected to changing words such as seaman and airmen, so those will not be altered. (Watch out, WMD–the cries of anachronism and sexism surely cannot be far behind!).

Liz Watson (no relative of mine), a senior adviser to the National Women’s Law Center, said, “Words matter. This is important in changing hearts and minds.” She continued, “Words help shape our perceptions about what opportunities are available to women and men.” With all due respect, ma’am I think that’s a bunch of baloney. I do not know anyone who ever thought that women could not be law enforcement officers because we call them policemen or could not go fishing because people say fisherman rather than fisher. “Words alone are not going to achieve all of the things that need to happen. But this is one easy part for us to do,” Watson concluded. Sadly, more often than not, when we do what is easy we tend to stop there. Perhaps Senator Kohl-Welles and her colleagues in the Washington legislature think they are making strides toward equality for women with this landmark accomplishment. I beg to differ. Changing words like this will serve only to irritate people; I see no fundamental change in the opportunities available to women coming about because of this word game.

The feedback on HuffingtonPost.com was so overwhelmingly opposed to this ridiculousness that Senator Kohl-Welles responded on the site. She claims that she works on serious and important legislative matters, and I assume she does. However, she also claimed that this legislation neither wasted time nor money, and I would have to disagree with her on that. Even if, as she suggests, the changes in the wording of the state laws was handled easily with computer programs, such changes were ultimately made by someone who works for the state who could surely have been doing something more meaningful and more productive with his or her time.

There were some humorous responses to this whole business on Huffington Post. A Dave Warnick commented, “What are they going to do if you don’t use their words. Sentence you to five years with a dictionary?” Dan Lloyd queried, “What am I supposed to say when I am done praying? ‘A-people’ rather than ‘Amen’?” Probably the best comment I saw was posted by Mike Buscarino. He wrote, “This idiot governor should be improduced! Sorry, but the other produce (apples, oranges, lemons) may have gotten jealous and offended if i had used the word ‘impeached’ The last thing we need is a bunch of young and unripened fruit jumping off trees across the nation in protest.”

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