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Friday, May 19, 2006
Sign of the times
I just finished reading a famous work of literary criticism. It's some 35 years old and still brilliant, but one thing really irritated me about it.
Every time the author refers to the works of another male scholar, he refers to said scholar as, simply, Lastname (e.g., Smith, rather than Mr. or Dr. or Professor Smith). On the relatively rare occasions on which he has occasion to refer to a female scholar, she is always Miss Lastname or (still more rarely) Mrs. Lastname.
I'm sure this was standard in the late 1960s, and it may even have been the publisher's house style rather than the author's own preference. But my God, it's annoying, and such a surprising reminder of how few women there once were in the academy--or in professional positions, period.
I'm not sure what the rationale behind this formula was: was it considered impolite to refer to a woman simply by her last name? Was the name, taken alone, seen as rightfully belonging to her husband or father (and thus the title situates her in relation to him)?
Whatever the reasoning, what a practical nightmare that must have been. Imagine: every time you wanted to quote a female scholar, you had to go find out whether or not she was married, so you could refer to her properly! And how demeaning for the woman to have that be the first and most pressing inquiry made about her: not what else she's written or where she teaches, but what her marital status is.
And here's the thing: this book was reissued by the publisher just a few years ago, in a new edition (properly speaking, the only thing new about it is the introduction--the rest of the volume looks as though it was set by simply photographing the original pages), and I'm sure it's still a good seller. Without an electronic file, going back and eliminating those titles would be expensive and time-consuming for the publisher, I know--but leaving them in dates the work in really unattractive ways.
link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:06 PM |
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