Friday, May 1, 2020

Females and Women

Recounting Barbara Gregory’s long and successful career at the American Numismatic Association, the organization’s own press releases were not alone in referring to her as a “female editor.” Ultimately, it seemed to me to be benign sexism. I found it to be a way to dismiss a person by placing them in an ascribed class. The essential problem would be impossible to ignore if we were to substitute other arbitrary distinctions of race, religion, class, or culture. Disguising our cognitive dissonance with soubriquets only makes it harder to ignore. I take my lead on this from Elizabeth Samet, professor of English at the U.S. Military Academy. 

“If the history of the military profession presents certain obstacles to women’s ambitions for meaningful service today, women in uniform likewise destabilize a military culture founded on essentially chivalric traditions. One linguistic solution to this problem attempts to obscure the presence of women by referring to them clinically with the noun females. Imagine a cultural history that boasted Euripides’ The Trojan Females, D. H. Lawrence’s Females in Love, and the Stephen Sondheim gem “The Females Who Lunch.” Already drilled in the replacement of women by females, my students don’t recognize how jarring it is to hear the term in the middle of some astute literary analysis. It completely ruins the mood. Such terminology appeals especially to those cadets and officers most disquieted by the presence of women in their ranks.” -- Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point by Elizabeth D. Samet (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux; 2007).

Allow me to suggest that all of the praise sublimates to condescension if we construct an equal and opposite narrative.

On April 30, 2012, Steve Roach, previously Coin World's associate editrix, became the first male editrix of Coin World in fifty years. On May 1, 2020, Caleb Noel became the first male editrix of The Numismatist in 38 years. Males have long been making inroads into the domains of famous journalists, writers, publishers, and editrices such as Nellie Bly, Clare Boothe Luce, Katharine Graham, Gloria Steinem, and Arianna Huffington. It should be no surprise, when you consider popular writers such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, and Philip Roth, whose works are often considered the equal of Jane Austen, the Bront√ęs, and Dorothy Parker, and even today sell almost as well as Danielle Steele and E. L. James.

The foundation of that hypocrisy stands out to me because as a writer, most of the editors I have worked for were women. The reasons may be cultural or inherent, ascribed or attained but the fact is impossible to ignore. So, I have to ask: By what right do people who happen to be born (apparently) male declare that the majority of humans are “just as good” as they are? 

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