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On gender-neutral job titles, let's engender flexibility

by David V. Appleyard

Most textbook publishers are going to considerable lengths to promote so called gender-neutral vocabulary among foreign students of English. They would have overseas learners believe that the bulk of those gender-inclusive job titles newly contrived by feminist lobbyists have won widespread public acceptance, which is doubtful, to say the least.

Male or female?Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of English job titles have always been—and always will be—gender-neutral. You have your cleaner, clerk, engineer, florist, hairdresser, pilot or doctor, to name but a few. What varies is whether or not either of the sexes is prevalent in any given profession in any given location, and how this influences our own expectations.

If a particular job is unevenly distributed among men and women, we instinctively feel the urge to add either male or female to the job title when clarification is deemed important. Because this can be awkward, yes—even in this day and age—it is hard to resist the temptation to make use of a gender-specific form when such a variant exists and is universally understood.

Not an inconsiderable number of us still wonder what is actually wrong with referring to a female flight attendant as a stewardess, a female waiter as a waitress, or for that matter a male nurse as a male nurse—given that men remain very much underrepresented in the nursing profession. The fact that surviving gender-specific names for a few professions are more word-economical and have greater informational value is indisputable.

If you then attempt an honest assessment of which job titles actually sound more appealing, perhaps "flight attendant" and "server" just aren't that cool after all. Furthermore, if we must insist on calling our male chairman a "chairperson", then why not a horseman a "horseperson"? Should we even go so far as to tackle openly "sexist" nationality nouns and replace an Englishman with the gender-inclusive "Englishperson"? The sky is the limit if you choose to go looking.

But wait. Even if we did all consent to having our English doctored in the prescribed manner, what in the world are proponents of all-inclusive job titles hoping to do about the likes of French or German? The logical consequence of their seemingly misguided argumentation would be to have entire European languages branded as "sexist" on account of their grammatical genders. Across much of Europe there are feminine forms of the definite and indefinite articles, and people's titles and professions are regularly feminized with a suffix equivalent to the -ess that guardians of political correctness in the English-speaking world take such exception to. No one could assert, however, that this allegedly sexist language has prevented either France or Germany from making greater strides toward sexual equality than many an English-speaking country. Interestingly, occidental francophone territories appear to be heading in the exact opposite direction to us, with Quebec taking the lead in promoting feminine job titles that previously didn't exist for certain professions traditionally dominated by men.

So perhaps it is time to see things in perspective and stop taking ourselves quite so deadly seriously. If your mail is brought to you by a male man then it is still fine by me (and I guess a good many others) to refer to him as a mailman (or postman) rather than a "mail carrier". If your next drink is served up by a barmaid, the chances are she'll be even more tender than a bartender. And if the star of that next box-office success happens to be female, there is no commonsense reason to postpone appreciation of this propitious circumstance by vaguely referring to her as an actor instead of an actress. That is unless you yourself want to!

The bottom line has to be our right of free expression.

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Our children still need to master handwriting skills

by David V. Appleyard

Despite our ever-increasing dependence on computers. tablets and smartphones, children's capacity to write clearly and legibly with more traditional tools can play a decisive role in how well they end up doing in school exams. If words fail to flow from their pens, they may not be able to get down all they know within the time allowed and so lose vital points. Further marks will be lost if there is no clear distinction between letters which look alike, such as o and a, v and u, or m and nn.

Writing practiceClear handwriting involves the eyes as much as the hands, so both must work in perfect co-ordination. Just as when we learn to play the piano, the many fine muscles of the hand need to be strengthened, something only achieved through plenty of practice. Every opportunity should therefore be given for children to write things down—and preferably on a daily basis.

A key point to bear in mind is that they themselves should feel there is a real purpose in what they are doing—they will soon get tired of repetitive exercises only aimed at improving certain strokes. One good idea is to let them keep a diary to be filled in at bedtime. Another is to have them write shopping lists when food items run out.

The advice of experts on the subject is sometimes age-specific. For example, when older kids draw pictures they should be encouraged to make less use of "undemanding" marker pens, and greater use of crayons and colored pencils.

In the case of very young children, however, practice sessions need to be kept relatively short, as their delicate hand muscles and movements need more time to develop.

So then, lasting benefit is sure to come if the emphasis is placed on regularity rather than the duration of the practice sessions. And be sure to make it fun!