Language Reform: A Msguided Attempt to Change Herstory?
Doubtless women are entitled to the process of getting the rights and freedoms granted to men; once these goals are achieved, however, and even before that, they can leave the language alone. When women have full social, political, and economic parity with men, no schoolgirl will burst into tears over himself being used in the sense of herself too, or about "men and women" being a more common phrase than "women and men"--anymore than French schoolgirls, I imagine, weep over their sexual organs being, in both high and low parlance, of the masculine gender. ( Simon, 1980, p. 37)
In preceding chapters, I have shown how language both reflects and constructs women's status as Other as it defines women's position as inferior in relation to men. Does this mean that society has to change before language can? Or can language change bring about a social reform? The dichotomy between what I termed in chapter 1 "the language as symptom" and "language as cause" position oversimplifies the complexity of the interface between language and society. Yet if male and female identities are largely constructed and transmitted through language as I have argued, then language change is obviously critical. Language is clearly only part of the problem, but how can we make it part of the solution to what Ardener called "the problem of women"? In this chapter I look at some of the arguments and strategies for reform with respect to English and other languages. I also examine resistance tactics and evaluate the relative success of some of the reforms underway.