Gender Specific Pronouns Are Not Sexist

Dear Apple,

This morning I tried out the “proofreader” feature of Pages for the first time. I’m writing a novel, you see and my word processor of choice does a bad job formatting things in PDF and Word format. When I went to send it off to a friend, who is going to give it a read, I decided to double check my work with the spelling and proofreading tools provided with the application. The spellcheck worked great. The proofreader, however, flat out offended me.

I’m a fiction writer. This means I write, you know, fiction. I’m not even writing contemporary fiction. I’m writing fantasy. Swords, sorcery, dragons and damsels in distress? Not familiar with that are you? Well, after using your proofreader tool for Pages, I’d have to say that I’m not surprised to hear that.

I understand that it’s not appropriate to use certain language when writing business to business correspondence, but when you’re writing a fantasy novel calling a woman a “lady” is not only appropriate, it’s offensive to do otherwise! Obscuring the gender divide in a fantasy novel is not something that you want to do, because lords and ladies have differences for a reason. Highlighting those differences and showing that women are just as powerful and just as courageous as men is the primary reason that I love writing in this genre. So, I can’t really understand why it is that every time I refer to a woman as a “Lady” your product reminds me that I am using a gender specific pronoun and suggests that I choose something gender neutral instead, such as “person” or “individual” as though somehow, that will work in a sentence in my fantasy novel. I suppose that “Person Dunleavy” could become a blueblooded title in a fantasy world, but the point is that fantasy is supposed to be sort of medieval. Being gender neutral? Not very medieval. The word “lady” is a title as much as “lord” and I noted that there was not one single complaint about my choice to use that particular word, and it’s used in my novel 445 times! How many times did proofreader complain that I was using a gender specific pronoun with regard to the word “lord?” Not once.

I found it even more offensive that there was something wrong with the idea of my referring to parents as “mothers and fathers” in the context of my novel. I also could not use the word “husband” or “wife” without being told that I should switch those words to “spouse.” Even in same sex marriages, there is a certain respect that is conveyed by referring to your partner as your wife or husband. Calling your partner your husband or wife, is akin to bestowing a title upon them. It announces to the world that this person is particularly special to you. These terms are not offensive and should not be banned from the English language. Furthermore, I would like to point out that there have been numerous studies that have concluded that children need positive role models of BOTH genders in their lives. Traditionally, these roles are filled by mothers and fathers, but anyone can choose to step in to fulfill that role and obtain that title. The very nature of the fact that there are differences in our gender roles as placed upon us by society is the reason why children do better when these roles are filled in their lives. So what’s wrong with calling a female role model a different name than a male one? Absolutely nothing. Mothers and fathers have different roles to play in the upbringing of a child and both are necessary, even if they are not biologically related to said child. It doesn’t matter what name you seem to believe we should call them, to that child, they are always going to be “Mom and Dad.”

On an even more insulting note, I discovered that Pages is quite happy to be reduced to name calling as it accused me of being “sexist” when correcting my choice of verbage!  I was stunned that a word processor would have that kind of cheek! Of course, I am speaking of the use of the word “babe.” I have written entire diatribes on why I find the use of that word in modern culture to be offensive. I agree, that in a contemporary setting, this word is used offensively in nine out of ten cases where it is applied. I disapprove of the use of this word so strongly that when my husband, oh, sorry, I can’t call him that, my spouse tried to apply it to me for the first time, I had to restrain myself from slapping him. However, I would like to remind Apple and the team that is responsible for Pages’ proofreader function that the word “babe” also has another meaning and that this particular application is in no way, shape or form, sexist when it is being used in reference to an infant, which is the context in which I used it.

I understand that your team may feel it necessary to try to educate the uneducated businessperson that might be attempting to use your product to sexually harass her secretary, but I have to wonder why you find that to be necessary. I would think that, as the largest corporation in the world, Apple would have a very clear understanding of the modern business environment and its intolerance for such behavior in the workplace. I do not say this to minimize the very real threats and come ons that women and men are forced to deal with in the office environment and I am in no way attempting to argue that sexual harassment does not happen in the workplace, because I do believe that it is very much alive and well, but I have to wonder how alive and well sexual harassment is in the word processing universe.

I could appreciate having these features applied to the Mail application for OS X. I could totally understand that, in the context of an email, the use of those terms is completely inappropriate, but in a word processing document?

I should feel free to create my stories as I choose. Pages should not hold me back from doing that, nor should it make me question the reasoning behind my choice of genre or craft. I should not feel compelled to write my novels within the guidelines that Apple feels are appropriate and heaven forbid that I ever finish that romance novel that’s been on the back burner in my creative brain for the last decade. I would hate to see what Pages’ proofreader tool would make of that!

There is a time and a place when gender specific pronouns are appropriate. I would truly appreciate it if you would explain that to the fine people who developed Pages’ proofreader tool. Also, please give them the following message: “Who in the HELL uses a word processor to write correspondence? That’s what email is for!”


A Writer of Fiction and Purveyor of Fantasies