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Orthodoxy (or, Hey guys!)

Professor Bainbridge blogs about how the American Constitution Society is the least necessary organization in legal education. (Well, he doesn't so much blog about it as link to this story.) I'm not sure I'd go that far, although I'm sure it would annoy Professor Dorf. But sometimes I do wonder about the prevailing orthodoxy here at CLS. You can never quite figure out who's supposed to be the oppressed, who's dominant, who's in need of re-education. Take this email that I received today regarding an upcoming event by a student society (not ACS):

Think “You Guys,” “Chairman,” and “Spokesman” are ok to say? Join us for a student-led workshop and discussion about exactly what’s wrong with this language—and how language contributes to oppression of women and people of color. The connections between racist and sexist speech will also be discussed. Pizza and cookies (from Camille’s) will be served!

Note the emphasis: not a discussion on what might be wrong with this language, but what is wrong with it. Whatever the 'discussion' is going to be about, it certainly doesn't seem to be a debate on whether there is something wrong with 'Chairman.' The conclusion to that matter has already been reached.

The email certainly leads me to wonder exactly which students the author was hoping to draw to the event. Presumably those who think that such language isn't acceptable are already well-versed in why they think so, and hardly need a workshop. Which means that--and here my inner-marketer is speaking--a rational announcement should be appealing to those who aren't already true believers. While 'come see how you've been oppressing women and minorities' might be a good pitch to someone who is looking for a bit of self-flagellation, I doubt the audience for re-education sessions is that large. And the language does not seem to be designed to reach to those who disagree but might be willing to be convinced.

Perhaps there's more debate involved than the email suggests, or perhaps the organizations involved have a smaller target audience than I'm assuming. Perhaps I'm reading the email less charitably than it deserves--with exams approaching stress makes me ever more curmudgeonly. Certainly more and more of the mails I've received recently have had an air of, "Now you see the violence inherent in the system!"


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Thanks for pointing this out. I recently said "Good Morning, Guys" to the organizers of this workshop. I was promptly reprimanded for my callousnes and my attendance at the workshop was demanded. This behavior has had two results: 1) I will no longer make the mistake of saying good morning 2) I will not be attending the workshop under any circumstances. "You catch more flies with honey" is a cliche for a reason.
:) Ah well. Maybe you and I are simply unreconstructable. Can't teach old Owls new tricks...
I noticed the exact same thing about the e-mail. Clearly the first step to gender equity is removing "you guys" from the common vocabulary.
It's perfectly possible to adopt a more positive approach to things like gender discrimination in language, though. For example, I'm reliably informed that most professional female stars of stage and screen are now 'actors', with 'actress' being deprecated usage in civilized speech. This seems like a harmless enough development to me - if it makes some people feel better then I'm happy to adopt the convention. By contrast, I'm not about to start saying "chairperson" anytime soon. Both unwieldy and unnatural.
Tony, It is about time you stopped reading the student events emails.
A. Ricky:

You write:

Perhaps I'm reading the email less charitably than it deserves--with exams approaching stress makes me ever more curmudgeonly.

You say that like it's a bad thing!

Of course it isn't, Clerk! But it does make one more likely to make errors in charitability. :)
If 'actress' disappears, shouldn't 'waitress', 'mistress', 'adulteress' go the same way? 'Lioness,' 'prophetess,' 'Jewess?' I agree with Fowler that much inconvenience could be solved by introducing 'doctress' into the lexicon. Thank goodness the editors haven't worked 'prosecutrix' out of the opinions just yet. Aside: why use 'gender' when you can use 'sex?'

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