Style or Substance / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 March 2015 — Gender equality is a long road in a chauvinist society like ours. So much so that a law allowing persons of the same sex to marry has gotten nowhere in spite of the fact that its chief proponent is none other than the daughter of our general-president.

This weekend I was listening to a panel of experts on television speaking about gender-specific language. They criticized the sexism prevalent in both language and law, and urged the eradication of the problem by, among other things, replacing the use of male-only articles and nouns with specific female and male forms when speaking in the plural.*

I must be somewhat old-fashioned because, though I believe in equality, this strikes me as being completely superficial. It treats the problem as one of semantics rather than as a deeply ingrained psycho-social issue.

It strikes me as being unimportant if we say “the boys and the girls.” What is important is that we stop playing this game in which roles are predetermined by sex. Nor do I think it is important to drag out a sentence just to say “the male and the female youths.” Rather, it is the chauvinist lyrics of reggaeton songs and videos that are troubling. I am bothered by the rather monotone quality of “the women and the men” but I feel a great sense of powerlessness when faced with the verbal and physical abuse that manifests itself on a daily basis in our society, especially when it hides behind and is exercised from a position of power.

I would like to ask these female and male purists of equality if they believe the problem of form will remedy the problem of substance. Are these women and men so committed to be protectresses and protectors in their crusade that I will one day see girls and boys expressing their patriotism by altering a line from the national anthem and singing, “To the battle forthwith women and men of Bayamo?”

*Translator’s note: In their plural form, Spanish nouns like la niña and el niño (the boy and the girl) become strictly masculine — los niños (the boys) — even when referring to a mixed group of boys and girls.

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