Hi! I’ve seen a couple of english-speakers use the term “person” and then use the pronoun “she” to refer to the aforementionned person even though it seems to be intended as gender neutral, I’m just wondering if you know where this usage comes from? I always…
Hi! I’ve seen a couple of english-speakers use the term “person” and then use the pronoun “she” to refer to the aforementionned person even though it seems to be intended as gender neutral, I’m just wondering if you know where this usage comes from? I always assumed it was somehow related to the fact that the equivalent of “person” is feminine in certain languages with grammatical genders ; eine Person, une personne, una persona… I dunno. My researches have not been very fruitful.
While I like your hypothesis, I’m guessing it’s actually a reaction to the “default masculine” that used to be common for referring to nonspecifically-gendered people (e.g. mankind, every student passed in his test, the “man on the street”, etc). These days, people tend to use neutral constructions like singular they and “person” or else combinations like s/he and him or her instead, but I could see how someone might choose to use a default feminine in this context.
Interestingly, the degree to which gender-neutral language is common today can be traced back to the efforts of two groundbreaking women in the 1970s, Kate Swift and Casey Miller. Quote from an article about them:
Swift said, “We suddenly realized what was keeping his message — his good message — from getting across, and it hit us like a bombshell. It was the pronouns! They were overwhelmingly masculine gendered. We turned in the manuscript with our suggestions such as putting singular sexist pronouns into plural gender-free ones, avoiding pronouns wherever possible, and changing word order so that girls or women sometimes preceded rather than always followed boys or men. The publisher accepted some suggestions and not others as always happens. But we had been revolutionized.”
Insights like these (about the sexist nature of accepted English usage) once glimpsed, do not go away. We had been sensitized, and from then on everything we read, heard on the radio and television, or worked on professionally confirmed our new awareness that the way English is used to make the simplest points can either acknowledge women’s full humanity or relegate the female half of the species to secondary status. (Words and Women, p. xviii)
Go read the whole thing though: they’re really cool. If anyone has an electronic copy of Words and Women, I’d love to see it, since I can’t seem to find one online.