October 6th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY - War on terrorism: where it leaves Australia

TESTIMONIAL: Colin Teese: Why Do I Read News Weekly?

ECONOMY: Terror weakens a softening market

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Close election still likely

QUEENSLAND: Good news for Golden Circle

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Marriage devalued in WA 'reforms'

MEDIA: Moral equivalence and the ABC

STRAWS: Back to the state of nature? / 57 varieties of racism / Galahs 0, Kiwis 3

Letter: Lessons from the horror

Letter: Drugs report

UNITED STATES: The global war on terrorism: the risk of going wrong

HISTORY: Evidence still lacking for massacre claims

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Railway Infrastructure: history shows it can be done

FEMINISM: Orwell comes to the hardware store

Books promotion page

Orwell comes to the hardware store

by Hamish Murray

News Weekly, October 6, 2001

Recently, I visited a computer shop to buy an adaptor for a PC connection. It required to be the reverse of my existing one. This had a cluster of prongs at the small end and a hole grid at the large end.

Explaining my need, I offered it to the shop assistant, a seemingly personable young lady. She studied it without success. I took a chance on offending her susceptibilities by resorting to trade descriptions. I described the pronged end of the adaptor as the male end and the opposite one as the female end. Instantly she understood.

"You mean gender reversed," she said. I realised then that the gender syndrome had captured the conscience of the computer world. She turned to consult a wall chart. The text on the chart was beyond the limits of my vision, but I used my imagination as she ran her forefinger down the list. Male gender - small end; female gender - large end, it would read. Perhaps even a neuter gender.

A spade is a spade, but an adaptor will never be the same any more.

Eventually she arrived at the required orientation and served me without a blush. I left the store in a contemplative mood. I had just encountered the cutting edge of feminism.

If you rephrase the description you redefine the relationship. The outmoded description - mine - had been too earthy. Presumably it smacked of sexism, projecting women as compliant beings. The updated version would eliminate the earthiness the previous one had engendered, in a matter of speaking.

This brought other examples to mind. "Manhole", another down-to-earth description has presumably been regarded as unacceptable, too.

This has been rendered gender neutral by converting it to "access hatch". Poor old earth. We rose from it and we will return to it, gender embedded, albeit disabled.

To the less sensitive but still aware, this manipulation of language might seem amusing. Not so with its committed followers. To them this is the new genderspeak - from the same stable as Orwell's Newspeak.

One can recognise its influence in the print media and in other critical outlets. Textbooks are now being written and promoted from what is claimed to be a "feminine perspective". This would suggest that there is a divide in humanity in the interpretation of human experience.

Those familiar with this sort of proposition would have recognised its previous appearance in the Marxist tenet of yesteryear which propounded that the divide was on the basis of class.

One would assume that the gender-based version lacked credibility following history's dismissal of its predecessor. Some analysts would simply see the latter as a derivative of the former.

With genderspeak gaining currency, we are witnessing the rise of genderless prose - effected more by circumvention than circumlocution.

To disguise the agendum, the technique is speciously labelled "inclusive language".

The inherited discourse of Western society must be disrupted, allegedly because it offends one-half of that society - even if language itself is to be wounded in the process. It is not so much the death of English in our case as the disabling of it.

Having lived through an era of Marxist tenets and observed their metamorphosis into current Neo-Marxism, I suspect we are now witnessing an attempt at a similar transposition in our language.

As I installed the new adaptor in my PC circuit, another Marxist tenet came to mind - the one about each society containing the seeds of its own destruction. Let us hope that in time this lingually exclusivist movement will self-destruct on the seeds of its own creation.

People defend a noble language at the risk of being labelled pedantic. This l could endure. But if I were ever obliged to make a similar purchase I would concede momentarily. I would innocently ask the personable young lady for a reverse gender sender. This minor concession to genderspeak would surely guarantee the correct adaptor for my PC.

  • Hamish Murray

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