Wednesday, January 23, 2013

But What I Don't Like

about Rev. King's speech that I quoted yesterday, is that he uses the gendered words "man," "men," "mankind," "brother," "brotherhood," and "sonship" 36 times.

He specifically references female humans 4 times, using the words "sister" and "women."

I notice that every time I read the speech too. And, well, it always feels extra alienating to me when it's someone widely recognized as a spiritual and moral leader doing it.

This speech, the language of which suggests that King was speaking to men and about men, is an insidious microaggression that lets me know that a great civil rights leader might have actually thought that all men, and only men, are created equal.


Anonymous said...

I think that's a bit of an unfair assumption, as he talked often about his daughters and wishing equality for them.

I think it's important to remember that language evolves. According to the Wikipedia page on Gender-neutral pronouns, at least, "he" as a general neutral pronoun was used until the 1960s. And when did MLK Jr. do much of his activism? The 1950s and 1960s. "Sister" and "woman" were only used when he was talking about people who could only be female.

While the language itself is sexist, I do not think he meant that only men are equal. It was just the way people spoke then.

Quirk said...

Actually a bunch of male grammarians petitioned Parliament in 1850 to eliminate gender-neutral "they" and replace it with "he". Successfully. Check my facts.