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University students could be marked down unless they employ gender sensitive language

There was a time when a “chair” was something that you sat upon, in today’s “PC” correct world it is used to describe the presiding officer or person in charge of a meeting, or organisation, definitely not someone employed to carry or wheel a person in a chair! Long ago in the “dark ages” this person, or “Chair” was called a chairman, if it was a woman in this office they would be addressed as “madam chairman”, no longer is this form of address used.

Now it appears that students at the British Hull University are facing the very real possibility of losing vital marks on essays unless they employ “gender-sensitive” language. Documents have been obtained under the “Freedom of Information legislation” which shows that that “language is important and highly symbolic” and informed they should be “aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations”. It went on to add that failure to do so would impact the mark!

We all must be aware that the English language is constantly evolving; many would suggest that it is being compromised and unduly influenced by American websites and computer programmes with words creeping in, the expression “gotten” is just one.

There can be few, if any, that believe that we should go back to a time when women were considered incapable of performing task as good as men. There are hundreds of examples where they do and often better than their male counterparts; airline pilots, surgeons, paramedics, and of course not only the head of State H.M. the Queen, but two prime ministers!

Over thousands of years we have used expressions which very adequately describes the trade, task or description of something. To take some examples postman, policeman, man-made are just three, other descriptions can be workmanlike, foreman and mankind. Alternatives suggested by Cardiff Metropolitan University’s code of practice on language suggest that we should be using; efficient, supervisor and humanity for these last three.

There are many who are completely dismayed at this directive for Hull University, one person has described it as “linguistic policing”. Another somewhat more amusing comment came from Prof Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham. Here he described how Malcolm Bradbury satirised it brilliantly in the 1970s in The History Man where an examiners’ meeting could not get under way until it had agreed on whether to call the chairman Mr Chairperson. Prof Smithers went on to say” That was more than 40 years ago and by now we should have grown beyond this pettifogging.”

There are many people, possibly many students on a religious activism course in the university’s school of social science that will say “Amen” to that.

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