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 It made sense, the gendered language was outdated, and nobody objected.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:
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”.
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.
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.