[lg policy] Opinion: Diversity warriors need to leave our language alone

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Jun 20 11:06:04 EDT 2018

 Opinion: Diversity warriors need to leave our language alone
Gemma TogniniThe West Australian
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 2:00PM
[image: Gender Specific words Illustration: Don Lindsay]Gender Specific
words Illustration: Don LindsayPicture: Illustration: Don Lindsay

A couple of weeks ago, in these very pages, I wrote about certain words
that have been hijacked and held hostage. To be clear, I didn’t intend to
be talking about ... well, talking, so very quickly but when the beer’s
free you grab a middy, right?

As they say in the classics, s... just got real and instead of words being
taken hostage, this time it’s the entire conversation. Let me explain.

Some of you may have seen the news over the past couple of days that Curtin
University has warned its staff and students against using what it calls
gender-specific language.

Other universities have language guidelines, too. UWA’s version counsels
students not to use words like “mankind”.

You know, as in “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Terms
like that are no longer acceptable. They’re vetoed. Gone. Blacklisted.

Curtin, however, has raised the stakes, admitting that “it’s possible a
student may fail an assessment or be subject to actions under the student
charter, or misconduct provisions” for failing to comply.

Stop and think about this, I mean really think about it for a second. A
university has adopted a policy which could see students fail if they don’t
all speak the same language. Language developed and rolled out under some
diversity policy, crafted no doubt in the Petri dish of academic hysteria
that bears precious little resemblance to the real world.

The message here is simple — what matters is compliance to a centrally
mandated policy on language used in academic expression, not the expression
of individual voices in a respectful, mature manner.

The university says it’s all to ensure that staff and students communicate
in ways that are inclusive and that reflect a commitment to valuing
diversity — although one could strenuously argue it does not reflect a
commitment to valuing diversity of expression.

Again — a student could fail an assessment for not using the approved
language. Higher education, anyone?

I hear what you’re saying — one example does not constitute a hostage
situation and I agree, but it’s not just one example. A few short months
ago it was Qantas who rolled out a so-called gender-neutral approach to
language on all of its flights, under of course the banner of diversity.

What that meant was avoiding words like love, mum, dad, husband, wife and

It is a special kind of inanity that pushes these kinds of agendas without
understanding just how ridiculous they are.

How about this? How about the fact that some people quite like being
referred to as someone’s wife or husband? Not quite diverse enough,

I don’t mind being called love, or darls, depending on who’s saying it and
of course, the context, because as an actual adult with the ability to
discern, I can tell when someone is being patronising or instead using the
vernacular or a term of affection.

In addition, I am not fundamentally obsessed with the idea of getting

Want more? Sure, no problem. Just this week, Cancer Research UK dropped the
word “women” from its pap-smear test campaign ... because, diversity.
Again, let’s just pause to consider this one.

Women, who you know are the single largest at-risk group of contracting
cervical cancer, on account of having cervixes, are no longer being
directly spoken to, because ... diversity.

The organisation was quoted as saying it decided to change the language to
encourage more transgender men to get tested, rather than focusing on the
traditional at-risk group of women aged between 25 and 64.

In a tweet, Cancer Research UK wrote “Cervical screening (or the smear
test) is relevant for everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix”. Technically
correct but fundamentally very stupid.

I understand the intent, which is to ensure that trans men don’t neglect
their screenings, but instead of fostering inclusion and understanding the
move alienated and infuriated women. Remember them?

If the intent was to be truly inclusive, why not just say women and

One leading advocate in the LGBTQ community put it perfectly when I asked
him. “Trans people want to be recognised and treated equally — so let’s be
inclusive. Why wouldn’t they just say women and trans men?”

Why wouldn’t they indeed? Inclusive, clear and represents diversity.

In public speaking terms, the diversity warriors are losing the room, and
by the room I mean most of us.

Silliest thing is, this kind of nonsense, this kind of alienating, over the
top social-linguistic engineering doesn’t foster inclusion.

It doesn’t breed tolerance and understanding.

It doesn’t remove barriers, it creates them.

And of course, it diminishes and undermines genuine instances of
discrimination and bias. Devalues them. They get lost in the peripheral,
ultimately disposable rubbish being pushed by those with nothing better to

To suggest that referring to someone as a husband or a wife constitutes
divisive language (because that’s the opposite of inclusive, right?) is in
fact disrespectful nonsense.

Threatening students with lower graded assignments for failing to adhere to
an “inclusive language” policy sounds like something the Stasi dreamed up
in the dead of winter.

Leaving out the word women in a campaign to encourage cervical cancer
screening is like omitting the word vagina when referring to natural child
birth. (Oh, but we want to be inclusive to people who may identify with
having a vagina…).

Enough already. Enough.

Who is buying into this?

I don’t think many, if any, of us are.

I truly believe most Australians regularly practise respect for their
neighbours, colleagues, friends and family regardless of their race,
sexuality and faith.

It is reflected in their everyday language, including the wonderful
vernacular and turn of phrase that is so beautifully inclusive, and helps
make us who we are.

To lose that would be a terrible shame.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lgpolicy-list/attachments/20180620/46f0f858/attachment.html>
-------------- next part --------------
This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list