Gender neutral or neutering?

Parents, take note: Attacks on liberty in our schools - common Core and other global initiatives put a worm into this apple, producing students who do not think. Here's another worm: when teachers take a prey from among their own students. Not to mention a teacher who prostitutes herself to a corrupt seller of offices. Or an anti-bullying campaign that pulls a cruel humanitarian hoax by replacing one kind of bullying with another.
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Yesterday the campaign for gender neutral language and gender neutral everything breached another bastion of gender distinction. The Board of Education in Lincoln, Nebraska, issued “guidelines” for all teachers to follow when addressing their pupils. The guidelines told teachers not to address their pupils as “boys and girls” or “you guys” or even “ladies and gentlemen.” Instead they must select a gender neutral common name. Among the suggestions: “purple penguins.”

Note: CNAV does not know whether Gender Spectrum, in suggesting that last phrase, had in mind the third-party Microsoft Windows app store of that name. In any case, the views Gender Spectrum expressed in those handouts have nothing to do with that store or the apps one might download and install from it.

What are purple penguins?

A gender neutral symbol to replace Venus' hand mirror for women and the shield and spear of Mars for men

A gender neutral symbol, adding a spear point to Venus’ hand mirror. Graphic courtesy Marcus Werthmann on Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License

The Lincoln Journal Star immediately heard from parents when they found out about the “guidelines.” Naturally the parents wanted to know what agenda the Lincoln Public Schools superintendent and board were promoting. Superintendent Steve Joel, as one might expect, denied any agenda. In fact he denied any mandate. He told the paper the Board were still working out “policies and procedures,” according to the local TV station.

In the first report, Brenda Leggiardo, the boss of the social workers and counselors, said this:

The agenda we’re promoting is to help all kids succeed. We have kids who come to us with a whole variety of circumstances, and we need to equitably serve all kids.

We deal here with a handful of kids who can’t seem to make up their minds about their sex. How does it serve all kids to suggest to all kids they should strive to make their gender unimportant to their identity? Does Gender Spectrum look to a future in which any person may switch gender at will, as often as he/she/it likes? What else can they mean by forbidding anyone to use terms like “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”? Shall we look forward to an automobile racetrack announcer barking out the command, “Purple penguins, start your engines”?

National Review reports this goes further. Gender Spectrum wants teachers to interrupt any pupils they overhear distinguishing themselves or fellow pupils by gender and telling them not to.

The gender neutral movement

In proposing these gender neutral forms of expression, Gender Spectrum continues a movement that began half a century ago. In the 1960s, people stopped using gender specific occupational names. Some of us remember them: policeman, fireman, serviceman, salesman, postman, flagman, stockboy, bat boy, stewardess, hat-check girl, and many others, too many to name. Today one must often use twice as many syllables to say the same thing. (Example: policeman -> police officer.) The push came, not from the medical profession, but from the “Women’s Liberation” movement. The idea: why shouldn’t women work outside the home?

Well, many women started their careers, started earning money, then found no more time for or interest in trying to change who they were. But the gender neutral movement did not stop.

The gender neutral movement seeks to level everyone. They declare no one should distinguish himself or herself from others, by gender or on any other ground.

To that end, they even want to change the declension of English personal pronouns. The first- and second-person singular pronouns, and the plural pronouns, pose no problem. All have common gender. The third-person singular pronouns distinguish their antecedents by gender. The gender neutral movement cannot tolerate that. So every five years or so, one hears of new proposals for common-gendered third-person singular pronouns. The latest came from Michael Newdow. Remember him? He tried to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Then a court said he, being the non-custodial parent, lacked standing. But he also tried to teach people to use new pronouns “re”, “rees” and “erm” as gender neutral third-person singular nominative, possessive, and objective pronouns. In an interview he gave, he challenged the interviewer:

Re went to the store. Try it.

 Why start with English?

Only with the English language could a movement toward gender neutral language even start. English, alone among languages, assigns no gender to most lifeless objects. (English speakers make an exception for ships and aircraft worthy of names.) The German and Russian languages have the neuter gender. But they do not assign that gender consistently to all lifeless objects. (For instance: “truth” is neutral in English, but “pravda”, the Russian word, is feminine.)

The Romance languages notoriously lack the neuter gender. No linguist has explained this to anyone’s satisfaction. After all, Latin had the neuter gender. But Latin did not consistently assign the neuter gender to all lifeless objects, either.

But English has the neuter gender. And in English, if an object does not have life, it does not have gender. (Again, unless it is a ship or aircraft deserving a name.) So the gender neutral movement could easily inveigh against an occupational name with a gender suffix. One cannot and does not do that in French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. French, for instance, calls a manager of any enterprise a directeur if a man, and a directrice if a woman. (The wife of a manager is also a directrice.)

So the gender neutral movement could start slowly, remove gender distinction from occupational names, and make that look like a natural reflection of the English language. But that does not satisfy them.

The real gender neutral goal

The gender neutral movement revealed their real goal in the 1970s. They called it androgyny. Wikipedia defines that as a technical term: male and female characteristics present in the same object or practice. Some infants, sadly, have both organs at birth. Something went wrong during development. Stuff happens, as any doctor knows. So the parents must call the gender according to which seems closest. The doctors will do their best, using surgery and other means, to make the child’s gender clear.

The gender neutral movement wants none of that. They would love to find a patient able to be a man or a woman with equal ease, and have a relationship with anyone “re” or “s/he” desires at the moment. Failing that, they want any person to lay aside “rees” or “hir” gender identity. If one cannot do this, the gender neutral movement regards that person as handicapped.

What else explains their instructing teachers to call their pupils “purple penguins” and tell pupils off if they separate boys from girls in their speech?

They say they want to stop children who know what gender they are, from bullying those who don’t, or have an anatomical problem. No good-hearted person can dispute that goal. Nobody likes a bully, except another bully or one who runs with one. (And even they end up fighting one another for the honor of King of the Hill, or Queen Bee, depending.) But putting down bullies is one thing. Handicapping everyone to match one person’s handicap is another. That’s the goal of the gender neutral  movement.

So when a superintendent of schools denies any agenda, don’t believe him. Or if you must believe he’s serious, don’t believe he’s the right man for the job. And yes, I said man. So sue me.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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