1/29/2008

It doesn't take much to write nonsexist prose.

Dr. Madhavan Nair, the chairman of ISRO, India's national space agency is giving a talk in Caltech on February 4, 2008. The title of the talk is India Space Program - Future Perspectives and here is the abstract copied and pasted.

Starting with the achievements of ISRO in the last four decades, Mr. Nair shall talk about the sound infrastructure that India has firmly established in space and how it continues to meet the growing national needs in telecommunication, TV broadcasting, meteorology and management of natural resources and earth observation. Mr. Nair shall discuss the plans of directing efforts and resources aimed at exploring space, which is seen as the next frontier for the humankind. He will also talk about the missions, although initially unmanned, that the Indian Space Program has plans to undertake to the moon and beyond. Later, ISRO aims to send a man to space and bring him back safely. This lecture will also discuss the efforts initiated within ISRO towards realization of advanced space launch vehicles, aimed at low cost access to outer Space.
The thing which struck me immediately was "ISRO aims to send a man to space and bring him back safely". Its 2008 and we are still stuck with a sexist language. This, despite the fact that we cheered and joyed when Commander Williams visited India last year. The government of India even set up a scholarship in her name and declared that Sunita Williams is an ideal role model for the youths in India. Dr. Nair's abstract above can be compared to JFK's speech of 1961 when he said

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
This too is sexist. But JFK lived way back in 1961. USA has come a long way. Compare JFK's speech with the 2004 speech of Bush.
As our knowledge improves, we'll develop new power generation propulsion, life support, and other systems that can support more distant travels. We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this: human beings are headed into the cosmos. (Applause.)
No where in the speech is the word "man" used. Just simply "humans". You might argue that I am being unfair, comparing Dr. Nair's speech with Bush's. After all, Bush is only repeating what his speech writers wrote. Dr. Nair does not have a speech writer. In my defense, it really doesn't take any effort to write nonsexist prose in 2008. Especially when its coming from a chairman of a premier organization in India and a former Padma Bhushan prize winner. I am not claiming that Dr. Nair is sexist or anything. Just that ones writings usually reflects ones thought process :)

1 comment:

Avi C said...

To be honest, not questioning the intention behind the speech, it's quite alright to use "man" IMO. This whole non-sexist-politically-correct-speech is getting quite tiring. Nowadays Actresses are called "actors", so I guess women can be called "men", now I suppose it would be a valid argument to ask why men aren't called "women", but, let's give it a rest