I didn’t feel compelled to change my surname after I got married. It wasn’t exactly a strike out for feminism on my part. I just kind of ‘forgot’. I’d been signing my maiden name for over twenty years and, force of habit being what it is, I just kept doing so. Likewise I’d been referring to myself as Ms on official documentation, applications form etc for so long that it never crossed my mind to tick the ‘Mrs’ box. Describing myself as a ‘Mrs’ would have made me feel almost matronly, I reckon. Time to go shopping for the twin sets, string of pearls and sensible shoes.
Hence I’m in what is probably the small minority who think there’s something positive in the European Parliament’s new ‘Gender-Neutral Language’ guidance, which recently prohibited the use of the terms “Miss” and “Mrs” in case they upset female MEPs. The guidance has also banned the use of continental titles, such as Madame and Mademoiselle, Frau and Fraulein and Senora and Senorita for the same reason.
Men remain Mr regardless of their marital status so why shouldn’t one singular term exist to describe all women. I don’t feel the need to advertise the fact that I’m married. And given the amount of money I spend on beauty products designed to counteract the effects of ageing, I certainly don’t want to be called by a title that makes me feel like a grandmother.
Mind you, I think the EU’s guide is going a little far in saying that sportsmen should be called “athletes”, statesmen should be referred to as “political leaders” and terms like “synthetic” or “artificial” should replace “man-made”. The guidance lists has also banned terms for describing certain professions, including fireman, airhostess, headmaster, policeman, salesman, manageress, cinema usherette and male nurse. Now that’s political correctness gone a tad crazy. Waiters and waitresses are safe for the moment – no gender-neutral term has been successfully proposed to replace them.
The use of such academic terms as “Old Masters” and “seminal” were banned last year by a group representing dozens of UK professors, lecturers and researchers because of claims that they are sexist. The move came after a local council outlawed the allegedly sexist phrase “man on the street”. You have to ask yourself is this a giant step for equality or just censorship gone mad.
It’s good to see that the Oxford English Dictionary is taking a more lateral approach towards gender equality in language.
Amongst the newest entries in the dictionary’s most recent slang edition are “Britneys” for beers (using the cockney rhyming slang on Britney Spears, geddit). Not sure how the songstress herself feels about this.
I doubt the authors of the EU’s report would be overly enamoured by the word “phwoar” – now defined as an “expression of enthusiastic or lubricious approval” – “stud muffin” – and “arm candy” on the world-famous dictionary’s hallowed pages. But they’re there, nonetheless, because their regular usage has made them an integral part of modern culture. Added to the words is Austin Power’s wonderful “shagtastic” and, a personal favourite of mine, “builder’s bum”.
Authors of the Gender-Neutral Language’ guidance may think they’re changing ‘history’ to ‘herstory’ but, I reckon the ‘unsightly crack shown by workmen when bending over in ill-fitting trousers’ will be around a lot longer than their suggestions.