Humanity, Men and Women

In the past few years I have tried very hard to be tolerant of the popular Christian lingo in evangelical circles— MAN means humanity.  It includes everyone.  Most people mean that when they say MAN… they mean all people everywhere. And so I have tried to hear it that way.  But my patience has been wearing thin lately.

Why not just say “humanity” or “people”? Why use a gender specific word when you mean something gender inclusive? Is it really that much harder to say “Jesus paid the price for humanity,” rather than “Jesus paid the price for MAN”?  Really?

And if it’s just habit, would it be so bad to work at changing that habit, on behalf of all our sisters out there… I mean, it’s not all about what is easiest for us, right? Our faith is about loving others and acting in loving ways toward others.  This is such a small sacrifice to make, to simply say exactly what we mean.

If I know what these people mean when they say MAN, you may be wondering why it’s bugging me.  And here’s the reason: Because it is simply one more way that women are ignored, pushed to the side in evangelical circles, asked to “get over it already.” Well, I tried. And now I’m asking my brothers to try something as well. I am not a man. That’s a fact. So when your are speaking about me or others like me, when we are included in a group that you’re talking about, could you please do us the respect of using a word that actually does include us?

Okay, I will step down off my soap box now… just some food for thought, for all those friendly readers who tend to use male language when they mean groups that include both male and female members. Thank you.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dennis Kuhns (Dad)
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 18:42:01

    I have been making very deliberate attempts to us humanity when I mean humanity, or people, or persons, which every seems appropriate to the situation. We need to keep the Word and Spirit of Christ to help us keep the pressures that would demean and oppress from overwhelming us.

    Thanks for the challenge.


  2. Mike
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 19:07:54

    Kris Anne, you’ve got this right! And it’s not just a hokey liberal PC thing. The words we use both reflect and shape our attitudes, and subsuming women under the broad heading of man is just another tool of long-standing oppression. And the etymology of the words in English just reveals how deep seated this prejudice is…. And why it’s such a hot potato all around.

    And, Dennis, you’re right, too—it is a challenge! Using non-gendered language is a really difficult task, particularly when not dealing with the collective (humanity) or the plural (people). I deal with this with students all the time, and there’s often no better way than to recast the thought in the plural. It’s wonderful to hear you say that you’re rising to this challenge, and I wish you the best of luck!


  3. Jennifer
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 01:30:17

    I guess I would come at it from an aesthetic point of view. I hate when an old hymn is changed so as not to “leave anyone out” or “hurt anyone’s feelings.” I don’t count myself as one of those unfeeling, dogmatic evangelicals who wish to keep women subservient. I’m speaking as an artist and a writer. It’s cumbersome and tiring to sing those hyms or read those passages with inclusive language. Trying to rhyme “people” and “humanity” just does not work and does not flow like “man.”

    On another note, I have seen such damage done by inclusiveness and political correctness that I have a gut reaction to its use. I take no offense at the word “man” and do not feel pushed to the side by its use. I am a woman. God made me to be a help-meet and a nurturer. I do not see this as a position of weakness or inequality. All this language does for me is call attention to the difference like a gaudy red arrow, and demand with loud and sometimes ugly insistence that all must be fair and all must be acknowledged. I grow weary of the “me-ness” of it all.


  4. krisanneswartley
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 08:32:27

    Hey, sis. If you re-read my post, you’ll see I wasn’t talking about songs or poetry. I was addressing the way people actually talk when they are discussing a topic or when they’re preaching. I agree with you about the poetry and songs, especially the old ones. But people have done great work in recent years with new songs (not everyone, but some), with the rhythm and rhyming of words… I notice especially with female song-writers… they’ll use the word “one” or “all.”

    You’re right that sometimes women can act pretty ugly on this issue and that’s not right. But I’ve also seen it get ugly from the other side, since I’ve been pursuing ministry. Both sides need to keep checking their hearts. While it is ugly to DEMAND to be heard and lash out in anger, it is also ugly for someone to close their eyes and close their ears to another human being. I’ve experienced the sexism head-on, the male-centeredness of some church leaders’ language (and I’m not talking about leadership language, I’m talking about basic salvation language), and I think it’s an area that deserves a conversation.

    But thanks for bringing up the issue of poetry! That’s a good point to keep in mind.


  5. krisanneswartley
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 12:02:11

    One more thought– children illustrate this problem so well. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that she and her daughter were listening to Christian radio and the preacher said “Jesus died for man, so that man might live for God.” My friend’s daughter looked at her and said, “Mommy, Jesus didn’t die for YOU and ME?” Perhaps for the sake of our children alone, we should avoid the exclusive nature of the term “man.”


  6. Mike
    Jul 30, 2008 @ 22:03:03

    I’ve gotta say, I didn’t read this post as about changing the language of poetry or songs, but in that instance, I agree with Jennifer’s point—when we’re talking about texts that we generally experience in their original language of composition. But we need to be careful, too, when we’re translating, that we don’t limit the scope of the words we use in the way that the original languages would not.

    For instance, the Greek adelphoi, typically rendered in the King James as brethren, and in many more modern translations as brothers actually carried the connotation of siblings in classical Greek, and, therefore, “siblings” or “brothers and sisters” or “sisters and brothers” (!!) would not be an inaccurate translation.

    The same is true of the Greek anthropoi (“man,” or “men and women,” “women and men,” or “people”).

    What we cannot ignore here is the intricate, delicate, and intimate relationship between language and culture. The English word man (which means “adult, male human” in our present culture) historically meant “adult human,” sharing a cognate root with the modern German word man, which serves as the third person impersonal pronoun (“one”), as well as the German word Mann (“adult, male human”). The same root in German developed into both, though the pronunciation is the same; in English, however, we have ended up with man and one—separate words for the two functions. Admittedly, though, English man has been slow to shed its other connotations.

    My point is this: When we’re speaking and writing now, there is more to inclusive language than some liberal, PC mumbo-jumbo. In contemporary, common usage, man does not include women or children. This does not mean that we should bring cultural artifacts of other times and places into our setting and alter them—not at all. But when we write for and speak in our time and place, we ought to consider explicitly including everyone we mean to include.

    Our mothers, sisters, and daughters deserve no less!


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