At first sight, the call from Ann Millington, chief executive of Kent Fire and Rescue, to change the name of the children's TV character Fireman Sam to Firefighter Sam seems trivial. But this is more than just a silly exercise in virtue-signalling. It also echoes and reinforces the growing subjugation of the conventional distinction between boys and girls, and men and women, to the ethos of ‘gender neutrality'.
In this case, gender-neutral vocabulary is being justified on the grounds that it challenges stereotyping. Millington claims that adopting ‘firefighter' would help change the image of firefighting as a male or a manly occupation, therefore encouraging girls and women to think of it as a job they could do, too.
Yet calls to purge the English language of gender-specific words are not just made on the grounds of challenging gender stereotypes. The crusade for a gender-neutral vocabulary also argues that existing pronouns, such as she and he, as well as references to men and women, or ladies and gentlemen, excludes so-called non-binary people. As Dara Hoffman-Fox, a self-styled genderqueer mental-health counsellor, argues:
‘Using gendered terms - such as "ladies [and] gentlemen" - is highly presumptuous, especially in today's society, in which many persons are aware that they don't identify as male or female and therefore are uncomfortable with this type of language'
From this standpoint, existing gender-specific vocabulary hurts and offends non-binary people and anyone else who feels that words like men and women do not describe them accurately.
[Ron: Really?! Sooo, what about the 98% of humans who are "hurt" and "offended" by LGBT demands that they not be allowed to identify and be identified as they choose, ie with accurate male and female sex terminology? WHY is it OK to 'hurt" and "offend" the sensibilities of 98% of the population because 2% of the population have gender dysporia or unusual sexual proclivities?].
Advocates of gender-neutrality are not simply in the business of encouraging a more sensitive style of verbal communication between people. Most tolerant people have no problem agreeing to call someone by their preferred pronoun and name. If someone wants to be called, ze, hir, zir, xe, xem, xyr, they, them or it, I'll do my best to comply. However, with the constant proliferation of pronouns, it becomes a bit of a struggle to keep up with the current obsession with identity and the reinvention of the self.
Unfortunately, the campaign to popularise gender-neutrality is not confined to promoting sensitivity to others. It is also fervently committed to linguistic policing and forcing people to adopt a language that is alien to their outlook and values.
In many parts of North America, the activities of the language police are backed up by formal and informal sanctions against individuals who refuse to alter their vocabulary. Directives issued in 2015 by New York City's Commission on Human Rights state that employers and landlords who intentionally use the wrong pronouns with their non-binary employees or tenants can face fines of up to $250,000. Last year, the governor of California endorsed a bill that threatens to reprimand health professionals who ‘wilfully and repeatedly' decline to use a patient's preferred pronouns.
[Colour fonts, bolding and comments in square brackets added.].