Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hilarious anti-feminist letter in LRB from 1992

The following is a letter to the editor of LRB regarding a book review by G.A. Cohen:

Vol. 14 No. 12 · 25 June 1992

From E.J. Mishan

Much as I enjoyed Professor Cohen’s review of Thomas Nagel’s Equality and Partiality (LRB, 14 May), it was hardly possible to avoid noticing his recourse to ‘she’ and ‘her’ instead of the standard ‘he’ and ‘him’ to indicate either sex. Is this departure from grammatical convention a bid to establish enlightened credentials, or is it part of his private campaign to add the weight of his authority to the promotion of peripheral women’s lib desiderata? The traditional usage of ‘he’ as an alternative to ‘one’ goes back centuries and – notwithstanding the exigencies of fashion – is wholly unambiguous. In contrast, the self-conscious departure from common usage in this respect invariably imparts something of a mental jolt to the reader.

Perhaps the editors will agree that occasional recourse to this practice does nothing to realise the goals of the women’s liberation movement. These goals, in any case, are being realised chiefly through economic forces: with the growth of mass affluence in the West, affordable domestic labour-saving innovations have made housewives all but expendable. And while such innovations push women out of the home, so do other innovations facilitate their employment in industry and commerce.

There is really no call, then, for our hyper-conscientious progressives to subscribe to the more eccentric tactics of those ‘conscious-raising’ zealots scattered along the fringes of the feminist movement.

E.J. Mishan
London NW11

This is hilarious. This guy is really pissed off because G.A. Cohen didn't unreflectively adhere to a traditional, sexist norm of language use.

But I actually agree with some of what Mr. (presumably, right?) Mishan has to say. I agree with him when he writes that "the traditional usage of ‘he’ as an alternative to ‘one’ goes back centuries and – notwithstanding the exigencies of fashion – is wholly unambiguous." This is true. The traditional use of "he" and "mankind" is unambiguous: male pronouns, and perhaps men in general, are alleged to be the appropriate stand-ins for humanity as such. This is why we should unambiguously oppose this practice.

I also find it hilarious that Mishan claims that "this practice does nothing to realise the goals of the women’s liberation movement" (as though he cares). The funny thing is that one frequently hears this refrain from opponents of feminism: "but it doesn't really matter whether or not we say 'mankind' or 'humanity'... so why bother?". My reply here is always the same. If it doesn't matter, if it's not important one way or the other, then why are you so angry and disgruntled that we're departing from traditional practice? It seems to matter quite a lot to the likes of Mishan that I say "him" and "mankind" and so on.

I should note as well that I also agree that "the self-conscious departure from common usage in this respect invariably imparts something of a mental jolt to the reader." This is precisely the fucking point. If it didn't ruffle the feathers of doddering old sexists like Mishan, it wouldn't be worth the effort. The point is precisely to destabilize a traditional practice, "that goes back centuries", which contributes to the reproduction of sexism. The more acute the "mental jolt" that this elicits from misogynist wankers like the author of the letter, the better.

4 comments:

Arvilla said...

God. I think I'm even more shocked by his solution to women's woes, i.e.Western development! work! labor labor labor economics economics economics. Vulgar.

There's a clear ethnocentric assumption embedded there as well. The answer to women's problems is in "Western development." It both sets up a dynamic in which the West is increasingly good for women and the East bad for them, and that participation in the public economy will be, in itself, a key to women's lib. Blegh. What a mess.

T said...

What a mess indeed!

T said...

"such innovations push women out of the home"?!?!

Arvilla said...

Right, because we all know the workplace has been a bed of roses for women.