Discussing the use of ‘he’

September 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a small-scale something to do, which was easier than I had expected:

I just finished a senior/grad seminar session focused on Sellars’ “The Scientific Image.” After the break, I made a point of noting the way in which he uses “man”, how I was changing his usage in the way I presented it, how we should be careful simply assuming that authors who use “man” really intend it to be inclusive of women, how we do not get to simply stipulate that “man” really means “man or woman”, since those words have meaning outside of the papers in which we write them, and several other small points. My remarks took less than a minute of class time.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how well the students responded, especially given that the class itself has a steep gender imbalance. They had clearly already noticed the language issue in this paper, and were glad I raised the topic. Many of them were aware of the large gender discrepancy in the field of philosophy and many, especially those who want to continue in philosophy, already read this blog and the “What is it like…” blog. Both the men and the women seemed to appreciate hearing about this from the perspective of a young, female, practitioner in the field.

They generated a good 15-20 minutes of questions and discussion on the issue of sexist language and hostile environments. Truthfully, I had expected more resistance and more rolled eyes, but their response was incredibly positive and inquisitive. I am glad I took a moment to raise the issue.


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