Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Calling All Beings

Earlier in my career I was a technical writer. One job I had was writing and designing computer-based training (CBT) courses: I authored courses for Microsoft applications that were administered on a computer, sans instructor.

My editor was a former N.O.W. member and still-active feminist. She had a policy that she never read anything written by a man (editing my work was a concession to necessity: she was obliged to pay the bills). Her remarks were peppered with observations about the frail egos of men and references to her former New Age guru, who at one point had exorcised the demon that had possessed her (I asked her if the possession had been unexpected or if she had been dabbling in forbidden areas; she said she'd been dabbling).

She was also a superb editor; I am an improved writer today for having worked with her. I described some of her techniques to an editor I know at the Cincinnati Enquirer, and he once used them in a presentation he gave at an editor's roundtable that was favorably received by his colleagues.

Not every conversation bore fruit, however. For example, one day the conversation centered on the use of the masculine pronoun.

"Some people say to use 'they' even for the singular case so as to avoid the use of 'he' or 'him,' but that's just poor grammar," I said.

"Yes, you're right," my editor replied. "The desire to remove sexism from the language is no excuse for writing badly."

"What do you recommend then?" I asked. "Should the word 'person' be used?"

"Absolutely not!" she said. "That word has 'son' in it, which is another manifestation of sexism."

"Well then what word should be used?" I asked.

"The word to use is 'being.'"


"Yes, it is safe from sexist connotations."

"But nobody will ever adopt such an alien expression to describe something as common and everyday as an individual."

"I know," she sighed. "But that's no excuse for surrendering."

"I think you're on your own for that one," I said.

The last time I saw her, she was mid-eye-roll about my wife's decision to become a Catholic, that quintessentially patriarchial religion. Only later did I decide to become Catholic myself; I never sought the editor's perspective on the matter, but I'm confident I could have puzzled it out if needed.

Which is too bad: I might have enjoyed explaining that it was Catholicism that raised women from the degraded status of mere property (c.f. paganism) to new heights because of the Christian creed. Not surprisingly, as society evolves its downward way into secularism and further afield from a Christian worldview, the tenets of paganism are returning, and women are again being restored to their status as mere objects of passion.

Malum quo communius eo peius.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've said before, there should have been a major writing career out there for you. Maybe saving the traditional church. You must have been quite the technical writer.