“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? (from 1984)
If you believe words like mum and dad, or brother and sister, or wife and husband speak to a normal state of affairs and reflect relations that are good and healthy, one might be forgiven for being surprised when your employer pulls you up for being discriminatory and even bigoted.
Calls to de-gender persons and relationships are taking off around the globe. In the United States House Democrats recently declared their intentions to avoid speaking of mothers. A maternity ward in a UK hospital announced that instead of talking about ‘breastfeeding’, staff would use the term, ‘chest feeding’ and instead of ‘pregnant women’ doctors and nurses will refer to ‘pregnant person’.
The ANU (Australian National University) doesn’t want to be left behind. The Daily Telegraph reports,
“Academics at the nation’s top university have told staff to stop using the word “mother’’ and replace it with “gestational parent”, while a “father’’ should now be referred to as a “non-birthing parent” in order to deliver gender-inclusive education.
The Australian National University’s Gender Institute Handbook instructs tutors and lecturers to use terms like “chestfeeding’’ instead of breastfeeding and “human or parent’s milk’’ instead of the phrase “mother’s milk’’.
“Do not worry if you make a mistake, simply acknowledge it and correct yourself,’’ the handbook instructs.
“Language habits take practice to overcome, and students respect the efforts you make to be inclusive.”
While the directives are a guide and not mandatory, it doesn’t require much imagination to realise that guidelines soon enough become rules and requirements.
Universities were once exciting places of discovery and inquiry. The sciences studied the world to gain knowledge of what is true. The arts encouraged creativity and exploration of the imagination. Sadly, the university of today can ill afford to value scientific fact or applaud freedom of expression. Today, a university education is more concerned with social engineering and training the next generation to think and live in conformity to the new groupthink. In case anyone assumes that what happens at uni stay at uni, think again. What is taught at university soon becomes adopted throughout the rest of society.
In the Daily Telegraph article, they interviewed language academic, Dr Neil James. He pointed out,
“It is very powerful, the way you describe a term can have a loading and can have that social engineering purpose…Choosing particular terms will steer community attitudes.”
Of course, this is the precise point. Language means control. Redefining words is about changing the way people think and the way we live. The aim is to create a new reality.
This isn’t new. Language has been used to control and influence people since the world’s first lie. What is new is the way we are being made to feel psychologically unstable and even ashamed for believing in some of life’s basic truths. This madness didn’t begin yesterday; the horse bolted decades ago. Marriage was redefined and children in the womb reclassified. What we are facing today is simply the latest chapter of the revolution to reinvent sex and gender. Man and woman have become virtually meaningless words, representative of the bad old phobic days. The modern priests of orthodoxy kindly inform us that meaning pivots on the self and ones personal impulses. To impose names beyond the individual is to cause harm and create an unfair society. Hence, we must no longer speak of mother’s feeding their babies breast milk, but of person’s offering chest milk.
Sex and gender are politicised. Nothing is to interfere with the project of modern self realisation. Traditional understandings, as essential and commonsense as they may be, must be eradicated in the name of expressive individualism. It can be observed with more than a dose of irony that the most committed individualists are among the most insistent on imposing new meanings and new words on everybody else.
Does it matter?
First of all, effective communication is becoming harder. We can no longer trust our eyes and our senses to make reasonable conclusions. We stumble over our words as we try to find the accepted doublespeak. How is the new mother, sorry, the ‘gestational parent’? Are you the non ‘birthing parent’? Apart from sounding like idiots, the problem is, the rules around language are constantly changing. There is always potential that employees will be publicly shamed simply because they are not up to date with the latest metamorphosization of words.
To misspeak can cost you your reputation and career. The process begins with an announcement of what is deemed acceptable speech. Self appointed hermeneutists then provide new definitions and education materials to instruct us how to repent of our ways and to use the right words. This leads to fear and to submission, for who wants to be singled out as a social heretic and bigoted person?
Second, the project that is designed to bring about equality and human dignity is in fact dehumanising. The distinctive, beautiful, and irreplaceable role of motherhood is taken away. Women’s sport will soon be a thing of the past. To refer to God as Father is now ridiculed by theologians and pastors who want to remain in the good pleasures of society’s bishops. Belief that only a biological woman can be a mother now contradicts ANU’s speech guidelines, despite the fact that this is a fact. Mothers and fathers are being erased from the culture’s new book of life, and inscribing a baby”s gender at birth is now controversial and potentially an infringement on the baby’s rights.
However, to call a mother, mother, and a father, father is not to diminish the personhood of those who are not. Rather, it is recognising and honouring a social good and social necessity.
We will do well to also recognise that there are people who genuinely feel as though they are living in the wrong body or who struggle to reconcile gender and sex. The answer is not to take man and woman and mum and dad to the deconstuctors. A society that ignores biology and the most basic of relational entities is not progressive, it becomes oppressive. This is a sign of a culture in trouble. We are not witnessing a new age of enlightenment, but a culture that is exhausted and declining. If we can no longer recognise and name mum and dad, or boy and girl, we have become like the painter who can no longer identify colour or shape, or the musician who no longer recognises pitch or rhythm. Everything is dismantled and becomes unrecognisable.
For the Christian, it will not do for us to simply hold onto patterns that even a short while ago were assumed by society as a moral good. Christians affirm categories of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother (as do many others who share a different worldview). Yet, Christians also look above and ground our worth in another category. Christians ground the value of personhood in the Bible’s affirmation of the imago dei. This thinking is quite unique to Judeo-Christianity and it is wonderfully liberating. All people are made in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth and dignity. Not everyone is a man or a woman or a mother or a father, but all share the imago dei.
The Christian view pushes even further. The man Jesus Christ is described as the representative for all people and the perfect substitute for all humanity. The Son of God became incarnate. In the person of Jesus Christ we find God who understands and empathises with human struggles and one who redeems. I suspect Hebrews ch.2 won’t find a place in a university’s guidebook any time soon, but I reckon these words are far more affirming and loving and good.
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
13 And again,“I will put my trust in him.”
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”