Thursday, February 17, 2011

March 1976: Selections from Guidelines for Nonsexist Use of Language

Archive 20: Articles and ideas published in the past that are of interest today in the 21st century.

“At the 1974 Convention members adopted a resolution calling for the preparation of guidelines for NCTE publications and correspondence to help insure the use of nonsexist language.”

In my next several blogs, I am going to give you these guidelines that also appear in the March 1976 English Journal. As you will see, I don’t always agree with the NCTE’s suggestions for correcting the problem. I will suggest what I think are more graceful uses of language. However, the majority of the guidelines are well done. RayS.

Guidelines for Nonsexist Use Of Language in NCTE Publications.
“ ‘Sexism’ may be defined as words or actions that arbitrarily assign roles or characteristics to people on the basis of sex. Originally used to refer to practices that discriminated against women, the term now includes any usage that unfairly delimits the aspirations or attributes of either sex. Neither men nor women can reach their full potential when men are conditioned to be only aggressive, and analytical and active and women are conditioned to be only submissive, emotional and passive. The man who cannot cry and the woman who cannot command are equally victims of their socialization.

“Language plays a central role in socialization, for it helps teach children the roles that are expected of them. Through language, children conceptualize their ideas and feelings about themselves and their world. Thought and action are reflected in words, and words in turn condition how a person thinks and acts. Eliminating sexist language will not eliminate sexist conduct, but as the language is liberated from sexist usages and assumptions, women and men will begin to share more equal, active, caring roles.

“Recognizing these problems, members of the National Council of Teachers of English passed a resolution at their 1974 convention directing the Council to create guidelines ensuring the use of nonsexist language in NCTE publications and correspondence. Although directed specifically to NCTE editors, authors, and staff, the guideilines will also benefit members at large. Whether teaching in the classroom, assigning texts, determining curriculum, or serving on national committees, NCTE members directly ad indirectly influence the socialization of children. They help shape the language patterns and usage of students and thus have potential for promoting language that opens rather than closes possibilities to women and men.

“These guidelines are not comprehensive. They identify sexist usages that plague communication and discuss specific problems that NCTE encounters in its role as an educational publisher. The guidelines do not offer a new dogmatism. Detailed and vigorous arguments continue over many of these language patterns. These debates have not been resolved; rather, an attempt has been made to identify usages that concerned men and women find objectionable and to propose alternatives.”

Title: “For the Members.” Prepared by Headquarters Staff of NCTE. English Journal (March 1976), pp. 23-26.

Next blog: Some Examples.

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