I was shocked this week by the number of broadcast and print outlets that used a sexist approach to describe the death in Afghanistan of yet another Canadian soldier.
The time has long since passed that we get all excited that a woman is in the army or on the police force or in another formerly male-dominated occupation. Several news alerts hit the airwaves yesterday screaming “FEMALE CANADIAN SOLDIER KILLED…” I nearly choked on my Cheerios. One of the reporters at 680 News and I used to have a little battle when he’d insist on saying “A female officer was involved…” and had no idea why it got my goat.
Let’s break it down. By making a big deal out of the gender of the person you are saying, in effect, that this is still a rare occurance to find a woman in this position. It is not. And how can you tell if you’re being sexist/insulting in this manner? Ask yourself: Would I say “male” in the same sentence if it were a man?” Do you ever hear anyone say “a male soldier was killed in Afghanistan today”? No you do not. Had she been the first female Canadian soldier killed, that would be worth mentioning. But she was not, unfortunately. And it does her a disservice to use sexist phrasing to introduce the story of her death.
If you don’t get this and you equate it with someone who’s pushing to change the language to person-hole covers, then I feel sorry for you. This is not feminist rhetoric gone to the nth, ridiculous degree – it is the way it is. To believe otherwise is to be an antique.
There are a few other examples of out-of-touch language I’ve heard in the past week on major news broadcasts, including this gem on CTV News:
“Circle this date on the calendar”. With so many Smartphones and Iphones in use, calendar circling long ago gave way to electronic appointment keeping. If you’re not in that group, you are more likely to have an appointment book which requires a notation and not a circle. It’s a dumb cliche anyway. There aren’t many things that would get us to rush and mark the calendar beyond a family member’s birthday, wedding or the end of a jail term.
“The mercury will rise five degrees.” That’s very quaint but most homes have digital thermometers. To younger consumers Mercury is only a planet. It’s just another lazy way of saying it will get warmer.
References to throwing things out. I hear this all the time. “I threw out the newspaper but I had forgotten to cut out my horoscope!” If you’re still throwing out your newspapers or bottles or cans, you’re a jerk! You’re recycling them, right?
You don’t have to start letting the crotch of your pants droop to your knees to sound relevant. But staying aware of pop culture and shifts in lifestyle, demographics and habits is all part of the job.