It drives me up the friggin wall when some snot-nosed Christian-intellectual uses a feminine pronoun as a universal indicator:
“The construction worker likes using the jack-hammer because it helps her get the job done quickly.”
“The soldier must use all her wits to get out of war-zones with her health in tact!”
English does not have a neuter pronoun. Traditionally, the male pronoun has been used. However, recently, this practice has come under attack and the above two outrageous examples are the result. Feminists and other limp-wristed, West-hating egalitarians have decided that it’s offensive to represent females with a masculine term.
June Casagrande, in her humorous and well-written book “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanines,” says this on pg. 148:
Consider the following sentences:
The reader can take this advice or he can ignore it.
The reader can take this advice or she can ignore it.
The reader can take this advice or he or she can ignore it.
The reader can take this advice or they can ignore it.
Which one’s right? None of them. They’re all disasters. And, short of completely restructuring the sentence, there’s no good alternative, either. English doesn’t have a neuter pronoun. Choosing the male pronoun is standard but arguably a little sexist. Choosing the female pronoun incurs the wrath of the anti-PC police [That’s me! – Shot]. Choosing “he or she” gets awkward really, really fast. Choosing the plural pronoun “they” is just grammatically wrong and there are hordes of grammar snobs eagerly awaiting the opportunity to tell you so.
Basically, you’re screwed.
We all know that today’s Christian intellectual likes being screwed. But still, some try to avoid the issue all together. They would rather get berated by a grammar snob over an incorrect use of “they / their / them” in a sentence than risk upsetting either the anti-PC police (like me) or the rabid feminist by using “he” or “she.”
Some, like Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga (Warranted Christian Belief) switch back and forth between chapters. In one chapter he’ll use “he” and in another, he’ll use “she.” Some people switch up every other paragraph! (See “Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway?” by C. Edward Good for a more complete discussion of how writers today try to skirt the issue.)
So, you can imagine my surprise when good ol’ John Frame decided to take a stand. John Frame is a powerhouse of a theologian, following in the Reformed Van Tillian tradition of revelational epistemology. As much as I love Frame’s work, it seems that if there is a liberal position to take, he takes it.
Not on this issue though! I’m glad to say that John Frame grabbed the bull by the horns. Yes friends, he took one for the team this time! In the preface to his wonderful book “The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God” Frame gives us 6 reasons why he used generic masculine pronouns.
1. He says that using something like “he or she” instead of “he” just sounds awkward to him. Fair enough. It’s his book, let him write it however he wants.
2. All the games people play with language to try and avoid using either “he” or “she” are irrelevant (or, superfluous) since in correct English “he” is formally recognized as including women, similar to the way the word “mankind” includes females.
3. His third objection is perhaps the most legitimate. He alludes to Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:3) as a way to show that there is merit beyond mere linguistic convention for using a masculine pronoun to represent women. Men represent women as covenant heads under Christ. (This general idea, I think, is why Western languages developed the use of the masculine pronoun in the first place.)
4. Frame’s 4th objection really shows that the man has guts. He acknowledges that languages change over time and that one must “go with the flow” to a certain extent but he will NOT be bullied into accepting some new linguistic convention by political interests, especially political interests that he happens to disagree with! (Way to go John Frame!!) When language practices and conventions arise from the bottom up, or out of the “grass-roots” then he’s fine with them, but when they are imposed from above by a bunch of limp-wristed faggots…they must be resisted while we have the freedom to do so!
5. He basically argues that most women are not offended by the traditional practice anyway, so why bother making a fuss about it? Furthermore, the women who do feign insult by it are likely the professional feminists who are out seeking this sort of controversy. The professional feminist, Frame argues, is not within her rights to feign moral outrage however, since the usage of the term is non-offensive by definition! (See argument 2.)
6. This last objection is one that I am personally thankful to Frame for offering. His book is about the Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, and NOT women’s rights or feminism or anything of that sort. He doesn’t want the young, conservative Christian (like myself) who is his likely audience to get distracted and upset. (It’s hard for me to read Plantinga for this very reason…every time he uses the pronoun “she” generically, it drives me up the wall!)
In the distant future, I’d like to do a historical study of the English language and investigate, if possible, exactly how and when this particular convention evolved. I certainly NEVER plan to use the feminine, especially when doing so leads to blatant denials of traditional male / female roles (like in the two examples I provided above.)
So, if you happen to be a feminist of some stripe or other and you’re upset by my usage of the term “he” in my writings, please email me and I’ll offer you an exhaustive list of things that you can do instead of reading my blog.