Has political correctness around sexist language gone so far that it’s silly? I think so.
Recently, I opened the local newspaper and noticed an article headed “No men allowed”. “No Men” was in bold print. The story discussed activities of a group of women who have gathered sans hommes each month since high school.
Not a single male protestor marched on the newspaper’s office. But this particular newspaper is not nearly as squeamish about the issue as larger papers. Our local paper has allowed sexist language before, including for one of my classified advertisements.
Nine years ago, on the eve of holding a huge garage sale, I had reason to think about the question of political correctness and to compare the policies of two newspapers.
There was some urgency to my upcoming sale. Three weeks before, a friend had unexpectedly died. I was named executor. Financial matters of the estate might take weeks to organize but in the meantime I hoped to distribute the proceeds from the sale of his possessions among his children.
My friend was one of those collectors. Every area of his house was stuffed to the rafters. The margins of his double car garage had been turned into a storage area that made his car seem unimportant. Boxes – all full – were piled upon boxes. Visible here and there were building materials he had retrieved from construction sites. Crevices between miscellaneous planks were filled with his own second hand treasures.
Some items could not easily be identified. A duffle bag was labeled “Parachute” but didn’t that look more like a tent? And how about the gigantic cast iron foundry bench frame that had to be cut into pieces before removal? Or was it not a foundry bench frame at all? And how did he get it into the garage in the first place? It was a mystery.
There were assorted suitcases and briefcases (all in need of repair) and a candle holder fashioned out of a tin can filled with rocks (clever!) Stacks of ancient textbooks in languages I could not identify smelled a little moldy. A collection of concretions from the Nechako River turned up alongside mismatched kitchen utensils.
I sifted through letters from zillions of strangers.
After days of sorting into “Discard” and “Garage Sale” piles, I began the disposal phase. Seven times I drove to the landfill, my small-ish car loaded front, back and trunk with junk. With each toss, of my friend’s stuff into landfill bins, I cursed his collecting ways. This dual activity of tossing and cursing proved therapeutic. Grief lessened.
A brave friend volunteered his driveway and presence; he would host my massive garage sale. I chose a date and placed advertisements in classified sections of two newspapers. The ad was headlined, “Garage Sale for Men!” and the text read simply, “All weekend long!”
I liked my blatantly non-gender-neutral advertisement very much. I thought that the phrase “for men” gave a hint of items one might expect to find.
Within an hour of placing the ad, I received a phone call from the big city paper’s classified department. I was informed that the ad would not run because it discriminated against women. It was implied by the political correctness policewoman that I was disloyal to my own gender.
Poppycock, I said. Women were more than welcome at my garage sale. In fact, I stated, we might garner a few additional female customers if they expected a deluge of men with shopping on their minds.
The large city newspaper’s sexism language policewoman – whoops – policeperson, could not be dissuaded and my ad as written was disallowed.
The local paper, on the other hand, was not as sensitive to the perceptions of man- or woman-kind and published the ad as I had written it.
As garage sale weekend approached, the city newspaper’s idea of my insensitivity to women began to nag at my mind. Was it possible that women more enlightened than myself could have been sincerely offended?
I posed the question to four female garage sale browsers. Three had no recollection of the wording of the ad. The fourth thought it was funny and said that “Garage Sale for Men” had sparked her curiosity.
Aha! Just as I thought. It’s time to cut out this silliness.