We recently discussed the schools’ decision to stop using the gender-neutral term “alumni” to combat sexist language. That controversy popped into my mind yesterday when Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., Changed the traditional ending of “Amen” to a prayer outside the House of Representatives. Instead it ended with “Amen and Mrs.”. This little controversy raises a broader point as we change or ban common terms that are not gender specific.
First for the obvious. Amen is not a reference to men. Coming from Hebrew texts, it means “so be it”. Presumably Cleaver knows this as an ordained United Methodist pastor. Still, the importance of correction seemed greater than right.
That is exactly what we experienced on campus. The same logic is controlled in the controversy surrounding the term “alumni”. One of the schools, Vermont, initially stated that it would only tolerate “non-binary, gender-neutral” terms. It then admits that “alumni” are gender neutral and “include men and women”. Still, it categorically states that it “clings to an outdated, limited concept of gender”. No explanation was given of how it adheres to gender bias as a gender neutral term. The school simply said, “I’ll see you. We appreciate you. With this change, we recognize the importance of language and its ability to empower those who have passed through our VCFA programs. “However, it ignored the actual language and empowered only to the extent that it replaced a gender-neutral term with a gender-neutral term.
As mentioned earlier, the language changes are reminiscent of our own debate in George Washington over the use of the colonial as a nickname. The student organizers asked, “When we talk about colonial history, what does that mean? And do we really want our school identity to be like this? “The focus, however, is on the history of colonialism in the world, not the colonial era as a term in the United States. As we strive to understand the meanings and traditions of other countries, some effort should be made to discover our own meanings and traditions. The colonial rulers fought against foreign rule. They weren’t supporters of colonialism. For those interested in GW, this is part of understanding our history and values. It just doesn’t matter that the colonial rulers were anti-colonialism. Victory pretends they are something they weren’t and then changes the term to reject a misrepresented meaning.
It’s not clear whether Cleaver believed he obeyed Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s new house rules on sexist language, but those rules concern gender-specific pronouns and terms such as “man”, “woman”, “mother” and “son”.