My wife and I love the show, Boston Legal (it’s a guilty pleasure). While watching it the other night, something struck me as rather odd. The modern world, with near dogmatic insistence, promotes language that does not prioritise or marginalise a particular gender; however, it is not evenly applied. Here are two examples taken from a single episode of our beloved show. To set the scene: both examples, from different points in the story, involve a jury issuing a verdict for a particular case.
The first one has a male being addressed by the judge:
Judge: ‘Mr foreman, has the jury reached a unanimous verdict?’
The second one has a female being addressed:
Judge: ‘Madam foreperson, has the jury reached a unanimous verdict?’
The apparently masculine suffix ‘-man’ attached to the otherwise simple term, ‘foreman’ is what ostensibly creates the dilemma for gender-inclusive language. Therefore, those advocating the need for such language have (seemingly) neutralised the term by adding the generic suffix, ‘-person’. With this move, the logic behind it is that the otherwise apparently offensive term now applies equally well to both genders.
However, this newer more neutralised term is not evenly and consistently applied. The new version only applies when speaking of women. One would think that the respective titles of ‘Mr’ or ‘Madam’ would give the new gender-free ‘foreperson’ the needed gender association. Thus, if we are being absolutely fair to the causes for gender-inclusive language, it should be, ‘Mr foreperson . . .’; but it doesn’t. Very strange, that.