Monday, March 16, 2015

Officers, respect our humanity

“A woman is a woman and a man ain’t nothin’ but a male...”
~Louis Prima, Jump, Jive and Wail

Honorable Public Servants,
          “Male” and “female” are properly adjectives, modifiers of nouns, not nouns themselves.  “Male” and “female,” when used as nouns to refer to people, are dehumanizing.  Any animal and some plants are male or female. We have perfectly good words for male and female humans that convey not only humanity, but age range as well: man; woman; boy; girl. 
The jazz tune from which the above quote was taken was written in the mid-fifties.  There is a long history of the words “male” and “female” being used to disrespect the people being referred to.  White, English-speaking men have a long called men and women of other races and cultures “males” and “females” and sometimes even the women of their own families.  
I first noticed the dehumanizing aspect of such words in the ‘80s, when a lot of feminists were calling men “males,” particularly “white males,” because they didn’t believe that they deserved the dignity of being called “men.”  I notice that black men and women rarely or never say “black males,” even when that was common among whites.  What’s interesting is that white men of a liberal persuasion still tend to talk about “white males” to refer to men who are conservative.  Some even refer to themselves that way.
          But the people I find using “male” and “female” to refer to people most consistently are police officers.  After that, there are reporters writing police logs from police reports verbatim without thinking about the disrespect they show. 
I have told enough reporters around this area that any animal is male or female, that they usually don’t use male, female, or that other dehumanizing police word, “subject.”  So I was greatly disturbed at the March 4th City Council meeting, when Chief Landis, before awarding medals of merit to officers who rescued a young girl from her mother, read the report of the incident, calling the mother “the female” many times, never referring to her as a woman and only once as the mother of the child.
          It doesn’t matter whether Chief Landis and his officers intend to offend when they use such language about the people they serve.  What matters is how the words are received.  People might not consciously realize they are being disrespected, but they feel it.
This may well play into our well-known and worsening lack of trust in government officials.  Police are the officials who are most likely to talk to us face to face and write about us.  They should respect our humanity and use words that show it.  How one speaks and writes comes from and becomes how one thinks.  We want our public servants to think of us as people, not male and female “subjects.”


Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040        rycke@gardener.com