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Opinion

Stand down the language police

Opinion

Attempts to introduce new gender-neutral terms are an affront to language and freedom, argues Morry Bailes.

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Parliaments make the majority of our law in Australia, both at the state and federal level. Parliaments are elected by the people, and governments and parliamentarians are expected to adhere to the wishes of the people. It is the basis of representative democracy.

Too often however. parliamentarians when elected behave according to their own views of the world, not the views of those who put them there in the first place. Worse still, they bow to unrepresentative minority views, to create law that flies in the face of what the average person desires and expects.

So it is against a clear majority of opinion that some parliamentarians are currently attempting to legislate to prevent us saying, and thereby thinking, certain things; to legislate to alter our language and the words we are allowed to use.

The latest front in the culture wars is paradoxically not what has become known as identity politics, but what can only be described as non-identity politics. That is to say, to attempt to de-identify every individual in society so that we are all beige and we are all the same. It is euphemistically referred to by legislators and policy makers as gender inclusivity.

A case in point is Democrat Majority House Leader Nancy Pelosi who wishes to legislate to abolish the terms “uncle” and “aunt” in favour of the moniker “parent sibling”. It is obviously an attempt to eradicate gender from our language, but the majority of Australians don’t regard that as necessary and simply don’t agree with such attempts.

In French, and many other European languages, items are assigned a gender by the use of le or la. To his credit, the latest attempts by parliamentarian François Jolivet have been to try to legislate La Republique En March, a bill aimed at preventing persistent attempts within the Franco academic world to demolish the French language by removing gender-based expressions.

Notwithstanding the discovery by Emily of Emily in Paris fame that the vagina is in fact masculine, the majority of French people believe that their revered language is being mangled by gender-inclusive expressions and support Monsieur Jolivet. Academics opposed to the gender-inclusive push complain that it “leads us to write words that do not exist“. It is nothing less than an attempt to re-write a language by one small group of society to suit another small group in society.

Before the British parliament in Westminster in a debate regarding a bill about paid maternity leave for members, the bill makes reference to “pregnant persons” rather than “pregnant women”. In that debate, the House of Lords learnt that the World Health Organisation considers women as “people who menstruate” as opposed to just women. In other words, and in spite of what a majority of Britons think, law is being used in an attempt to take the word woman from the English vocabulary.

JK Rowling is one woman who has taken exception to such initiatives, pointing out that the feminist movement is being derailed, just when all of us were making inroads into gender equality on boards, in senior management and ownership positions within firms and companies. Should these so-called gender-inclusive initiatives go unchecked, how on earth are we to understand the rules in this brave new world of diversity, when we can no longer identify who is who? To the many people it is unnecessary and confusing.

In Australia, the Australian National University has been taking giant steps down the same road. People whom we formerly regarded as women, with things we formerly described as breasts and who had offspring and did something we used to call breastfeeding, are now redefined. According to the ANU’s Gender–Inclusive Handbook, because there are among these people those who no longer identify as being women, we should in their case describe them as chestfeeders.

It’s best we park the discussion about whether we are mothers and fathers any more or whether we are instead, according to the ANU Handbook, “gestational” and “non-gestational” parents.

Back in Britain and in the debate referred to above, Baroness Claire Fox said “these new language codes and norms are mandating us to adopt double-speak. Why do I need to describe myself as a ‘cis woman? I am a woman; that is it – enough. I’m not a uterus holder, nor a person with a vagina nor a chestfeeder. These are linguistic abominations but they are not harmless… (they are) a linguistic assault on the notion that biological sex exists at all”.

The sword also cuts both ways. To call an infertile woman who wishes for a child a uterus holder may be not merely insensitive but downright offensive. It points to the fact that these notions are often dreamt up by people who may not be mothers or fathers or who may not have children. Or by younger people who may not have considered that many women no longer menstruate.

The justification for all of this and the accompanying attempts to create law and policy around it, is evidently so not as to offend the LGBTQIA+ community. However, I dare say there is nothing like a consensus on these issues within that community either.

If it is to appease anyone, it is a small group of people who will never cease in their prosecution of the culture wars. Once one right has been eroded, they set upon the next one. Step one is to create the fiction of divided groups in society. Step two is to engineer offence supposedly inflicted on such a group, and it is always some alleged minority group, and the offence is always allegedly perpetrated by the majority. Step three is to delude impressionable younger people and lobby weak-willed policy makers and parliamentarians under the falsehood of pretended inequity or fears they will be called out for not doing what they should be to address the concocted ills to the concocted group, invented by steps one and two.

It is regarded in this day as heartless to argue the majority view.

However, the majority elect the parliament and the government, they fund our universities and our public institutions such as public broadcasters. These people do not like or want our language “mangled” as the French have put it. They do not wish to have mutated expressions such as “parent sibling” or “gestational parent” to enter our language. Indeed, most people just laugh. They laugh in disbelief, yet our policy-makers and parliaments press on enacting this dross in a direct attack on the English language and our freedom to say things how we want to say things.

Law ought to reflect what a majority of people in a society want it to be. While Spock may be entirely a character of fiction, his script was written by humans and there was no more logical thing that fell from his character than his saying: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” The majority of Australians want to be called a woman or a man, including many trans people. Some do not. No-one is the slightest bothered by those who don’t, but the majority should not be asked to become an oddly named “gestational” or “non-gestational” parent on the basis that a few may. We are perfectly able to accommodate that and respect it. But when the legislative tail starts wagging the dog, we have gone too far.

Yet again some policy-makers, parliamentarians and some leaders have interpreted the silence of the majority on this issue to equate to acquiescence. It is not.

It is clear to me that this new gender inclusivity push is causing angst to most everybody. When people who have fought for women’s equality, who have championed change, who seek to address the plight of every woman sexually harassed and sexually assaulted, who wish us to understand the fear experienced by every woman in society when alone lest she encounter a monster, say this is wrong-headed, then it is.

It is more than wrong. It is to be rejected, not tolerated with a laugh of disbelief. In short, law should not be used to advance unnecessary and unsupported causes and policies, when we have actual issues to address. Time to end this one and respect language, our freedom of expression, and the rights of all people.

Morry Bailes is Senior Business Advisor to Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers, past president of the Law Council of Australia and a past president of the Law Society of South Australia.

He is a member and past office-holder of the Liberal Party.

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