Hey Man, How Are You? (Yes of Course, Lady – That Obviously Means You!)

 

On my Utah ballot at the beginning of this month, we had a constitutional amendment up for an approval vote. It looked like this: 




A female state senator named Deidre Henderson (also Utah’s next lieutenant governor) proposed this change, which basically says, “Whenever it says “men” in the Utah constitution, let’s change it to say “people”, which will then include everyone, not just the dudes.” This amendment passed easily, with basically zero opposition. The legislature voted unanimously for the change, and the majority of Utah voters approved it. It made sense, the gendered language was outdated, and nobody objected.

(Well, *mostly* nobody objected. I did read one comment that sounded like this: “It’s fine to change this, but it’s kind of a silly thing to worry about with so many other pressing matters. It’s not like anybody reads the constitution and doesn’t understand that “men” is supposed to mean everyone.”) 

In the church, “men”, “man” and “mankind” are also constantly used to refer to both men and women. (Off the top of my head: “Adam fell that man might be.” “Men are free to choose liberty and eternal life.” “Behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the eternal life and immortality of man.”) The scriptures are full of examples of the male pronoun meaning both male and female. 

(Well, except for when “men” actually means “only men, and absolutely never women”, like when someone says “God asks men to be the holders of the priesthood”.) (PS, no actual scriptures exist anywhere that say only men should hold the priesthood.) But that’s a silly side note, so never mind!

The point is, women are constantly expected to understand that they are included in gendered language that only refers to the masculine all the time. Perhaps changing the Utah constitution is a pointless exercise indeed.  But out of curiosity, does it ever go the opposite direction? Do we ever refer to women specifically and include men under the same umbrella?

Nope! We do not. (We definitely do not.) A while back, a female Latter-day Saint friend of mine posted the following CoverGirl advertisement on her Facebook page: 

I’d personally love to have this guy help me with my makeup.


Captioning this, she said mockingly (to the best of my recollection), “Doesn’t he understand that CoverGIRL means it’s for GIRLS? lol! Satan sure is confusing people these days!” She (and those who replied) couldn’t stop laughing (out loud, apparently) at any company or consumer dumb enough to buy into the idea that men and boys would ever use product with the word “girl” in it.

I seriously doubt she’s given much thought to how many times she’s been told SHE can become like Heavenly Father (a boy), or re-posted a meme about how “Men are that they might have joy” (and related it directly to motherhood), or, I don’t know, maybe referred to herself and all humans as the “sons of men”.

I can’t be the only one who finds these memes amusing (I’m LOLing, even). Can anyone imagine a meme that says, “As Sisters in Zion, We’ll All Work Together” captioning an Elder’s Quorum painting a house together?

As women, we are so used to taking on masculine names we don’t even notice. But reverse it, and suddenly it’s hilarious and something to make fun of. Last year I overheard a conversation about the Netflix show “Queer Eye”. Two LDS moms nearby me were discussing the show. One of them said she really liked watching it – with the exception of Jonathan, the most flamboyant cast member who dresses in a mix of both traditionally male and female clothing. Her complaint wasn’t about his fashion however, it was about his habit of approaching other men on the show and using phrases like, “Girl, you look fabulous in that!”, or “Yes, Queen! I love it!” This woman was uncomfortable and annoyed with his regular use of female pronouns when interacting with men. 

This is Jonathan Van Ness, the Queer Eye hairdresser that made the woman in the overheard conversation so uncomfortable (and just for the record, I love him very much).

Again, I bet this woman doesn’t give it a second thought when someone refers to a group of women she’s part of as “guys”. So why is it irritating for her to hear a man called a girl, but not for a woman to be called a “guy”? 

How about we not only change our state constitutions, but ALL of our language (church and scriptures included) to just say “people” when we mean “people”? Why don’t we stop making feminine references to men hilarious or offensive, if masculine references to women are just fine?  And why don’t we pay better attention to the hundreds of subtle nuances in our language that preference men and the male experience over everyone and everything else?  Because if our goal is actually Zion, we’re never going to get there at this rate. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, A-Women. 

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11 Responses

  1. Niki-La says:

    Since the *waves hand vaguely at the world* I have been attending with Community of Christ. (my local LDS ward did not seem interested in doing anything online and only started holding any kind of service a month ago. Which is neither here nor there but it left a very large hole)
    Several years ago they updated their hymnal so that the words are all inclusive. It was amazing to sing (virtually) with others songs that included me instead of excluded me or that I had to shoehorn myself into.
    When they speak, the speakers work hard to use inclusive language. I’m included in the talks on Sunday. Its fantastic.
    When they chose speakers, they come from a variety of backgrounds. Many don’t look like me or sound like me. Its beautiful. Everyone belongs. They say it. And work hard to mean it. I love it.
    We sing in Spanish, English, French, and German so far with the group I attend. The harmony and unity was so different from what I had experienced before. I look forward to it.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I’ve heard a handful of Community of Christ hymns and they’re all so awesome (the one that goes, “For everyone here, a seat at the table… blah blah, however it goes” :). You don’t notice how much you are excluded regularly until you hear yourself included and it’s such a refreshing shock!

      I know they’re redoing the LDS hymnbook right now. What are the chances it’ll fix any of these issues?

  2. Risa says:

    I love Jonathan Van Ness for the exact reason your ward member doesn’t like him. I love how he lifts and builds people up all while using, mostly, female pronouns. I can’t imagine someone spending an hour with JVN and not feeling better about themselves afterwards.

    It’s about time Utah does this to the constitution. I’ve never felt included in the “men means everyone” nonsense. That’s why when I was LDS I use to be super subversive by singing female pronounces for the hymns in place of the male pronouns. It got me a few looks.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I wish Jonathan Van Ness could spend the weekend with me, teach me how to do my hair, and remind me that I’m awesome. In fact, when I need a boost, I pretend the 5 Queer Eye guys are hanging out with me and telling me all the reasons I should love myself. (Maybe this pandemic is cutting off my ability to interact with real life humans too much, ha ha ha. But I love when they all visit me in my imagination. :))

  3. Wendy says:

    Abby, I love how you are pointing out the contradictions people in the church often act out on this issue. And your “A-Women” ending made me smile. Thank you for highlighting how problematic male-centric language is tor half of the population—even if some women gaslight themselves into thinking it’s okay.

    Risa, I did the same thing. It was the only way I could make it through sacrament meeting. That, and reading and coloring the ExII coloring book with my daughters.

  4. Bob says:

    I just love this. I wish I had something more to contribute, but that’s all I have. This just really made me happy. Thank you!!

  5. Mary Young says:

    I thank you for this, on my on behalf and that of my daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters.
    Amen!

  6. spunky says:

    I don’t watch much American TV, so don’t know about the show, but I FEEL YOU with the gendered speak. It’s hard. It makes up all of the problems you mention, plus more. Gendered binary language is really not helpful. Thank you for your post!

  7. I have noticed that many conference talk speakers do update masculine scriptures in their talks, saying things like, “men and women are that they might have joy” and sometimes I wish they would update the actual books like that, but I then I think I would worry about how much more obvious it would be that they would choose certain parts not to make gender neutral, and I think we’re not quite ready for that step yet. I hope someday we will evolve to the point that we can do that without risk.

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