When Matt asked me to respond to his post on the feminine inclusive pronoun, I became worried that I wouldn’t have enough of an objection to the arguments he was making. I do, after all, embrace what I believe to be a biblical theology of gender that very much includes the importance of man (the male) as the representative head and leader of humanity. I believe that the order of creation and the incarnation of Christ are not accidents of Divine will or mere necessities of culture, but meaningful forms of communication about who we are as human beings and what it means to be male and female. That being said, I still wind up on a somewhat different side of this debate than Matt.
When used in academic and nonfiction publications, feminine inclusive pronouns are an acknowledgment of women in the public sphere. Where once there was a single gender in the working world (at least as the vast majority), now we have almost equal interaction. Inclusive pronouns are simply more accurate when writing about sets of people. They are also more easily understood. If one was to refer to “man” the way Shakespeare or Milton were free to, it could be easily mistaken in the modern climate to be referring to males. As the word evolves to become more specific to gender it is less likely to be understood as a universal reference and loses some of its meaning. To continue to use it would be similar to insisting on using the word "ass" when referring to a donkey; the intended meaning is not the first thing that comes to the audiences’ mind and it may end up being mildly offensive.
Much of what I just wrote could be easily dismissed if you believe that there are important moral issues at stake. Matt’s main objection, after all, was one of principal and a desire to reflect proper theology, not concern with the most pragmatic use of language. That’s why I think it is important in this issue, like all others, that we reflect carefully on where we draw our figurative line in the sand.
We should attempt to never become reactionary or unsoundly extreme when defending what we believe. It is easy when trying to protect biblical patriarchy (for lack of a better term) to observe the cultural distaste for it and respond with renewed and expanded vigor against American feminism and what can be viewed as postmodern language usage (Ah, postmodernism and feminism, can any other two things get us so riled up?). This would be a mistake. Making a small change like using “she” or “they” when possible is a culturally relevant and sensitive way to increase our communication with the secular world (and this is of no small significance). To include women in referencing humankind doesn’t—on its own—contradict even a traditional view of the created difference between man and woman, and it keeps us from dying in a battle of limited importance when we are waging a great and significant cultural war.
Cate MacDonald is a graduate of Biola University where she majored in English literature. She is now studying Spiritual Formation at Talbot School of Theology, and is particularly interested in the development of one's life and soul in the context of their gender. She blogs at MissCate.com.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.