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Casey Geddes Miller (1919-1997): an appreciation
Women and Language. 20.1 (Spring 1997): p1.
Abstract: 

Casey Miller is known for pioneering moves against nonsexist writing. Her efforts against linguistic sexism began in 1970 when she and writing partner Kate Swift questioned the use of the word 'he' in a sex education manual for high school students they were editing. Their works include the article 'Desexing the Language' for 'New York' magazine in 1971 and the book 'Words and Women: New Language in New Times' published in 1976.

Full Text: 

Casey Miller, the doyen of nonsexist writing, died on January 5, 1997 of chronic obstructive lung disease at her home in East Haddam, Connecticut.

Miller and her editorial and writing partner, Kate Swift, began their assault on linguistic sexism in 1970. Their involvement in the subject started during Miller's and Swift's first work together as copy editors of a 1970 sex education handbook for high school students. The author's use of "he" made it impossible to know whether it referred to both males and females or only males.

Then in 1971 they wrote an article subtitled "Desexing the Language" for New York magazine and in the first issue of Ms. in the spring of 1972. In 1972, they were asked by The New York Times Magazine to write an article on sexism in English. The piece, published under the title "One Small Step for Genkind," was a breakthrough -- the earliest substantive piece on linguistic sexism to appear in a large-circulation mainstream publication.

The immediate reaction took the form of ridicule and satiric wordplay. The title of a full-page essay in Time in 1972, "Sispeak: A Msguided Attempt to Change Herstory," was typical. But they had raised the issue, and now their other articles came out in The Washington Post and, over the years, in many additional national periodicals and in more than 30 anthologies and textbooks.

Their first book, Words and Women: New Language in New Times, was published in 1976 (re-published in fall 1991 with an introduction by Catharine R. Stimpson). With wit and unassailable logic, they demolished the use of "man" and male pronouns as including both men and women, among many other grammatical rules and terms. An example of the consciousness-raising style: "A tomboy is `a girl of boyish behavior,' according to one dictionary, `a young girl who behaves like a lively, active boy,' according to another. But why must a girl be defined in terms of something she is not -- namely, a boy?"

Also in 1976, the journal Women and Language was founded to record the growing body of research in the field as well as report of courses and conferences.

The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing: For Writers, Editors and Speakers came out in 1980 (Women's Press, Ltd., London. Republished in 1988, updated). More than a handbook that suggested nonsexist substitutes for long accepted terms, it offered a consciousness-raising history of language.

There were other important contributions, besides activities in local and state politics. Harper and Row asked them to take over the incomplete manuscript of Pauli Murray's autobiography at her death in 1985, essentially complete but needing parts rewritten, cutting, bridging and some reorganization for the book Song in a Weary Throat, and they then interested Carol Orr, director at the University of Tennessee Press, to issue it in paperback under the new title Pauli Murray, the Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest and Poet.

In 1989, Casey and Kate were invited to discuss bias in English language usage at a conference of all state judges, from Supreme Court to probate. They spoke in plenary session and in an afternoon workshop at the annual meeting of 425 directors, editors and other press people of the Association of American University Presses in June 1990 on bias in standard English. They continued speaking on the subjects of sexist, racist, religious, ageist and other forms of prejudice in English to state departments of education, conferences, seminars and college classes.

Casey Geddes Miller was born on February 26, 1919 in Toledo, Ohio. She received a B.A. degree in philosophy from Smith College in 1940 and studied graphic arts at Yale. She headed the publications department of Colonial Williamsburg from 1947 to 1954, then became the curriculum editor of Seabury Press. During World War II she served in Naval Intelligence, working in cryptography.

A photographer as well as an author and editor, her photo essays have appeared in Nature and Science, National Fisherman, Antiques, and other publications.

Casey, with her brilliant mind and wide erudition, was a joy to her friends and beloved feminist colleagues. And all of society has benefited from the more than two decades of work of Casey Miller and Kate Swift. Speaking and writing have changed, profoundly altering how we think of women, of ourselves, and of all people. The world is richer due to Casey Miller. We celebrate her life even as we mourn her death.

Donna Allen is president of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press and the founder and first editor of Media Report to Women. Paula Kassell is the founder and first editor of New Directions for Women.

Overview

Judi Beinstein Miller and Anita Taylor

The idea to devote a special issue of Women and Language to "rethinking gender" developed from our frustration with uses of the term, gender, especially in relation to the concept of sex (Miller & Taylor, 1993; Taylor & Miller, 1995, Taylor, 1995). The two words denote clearly related concepts, but the gender literature provides neither a simple nor unified view of their relationships (Deaux, 1993; Taylor, 1996; Unger, 1990).

English speakers typically use the term, sex, to differentiate women and men at a single level, by biological criteria. In contrast, the term, gender, is used at different levels of analysis, at least among scholars, to characterize role allocation in institutions; interactions between people; cognitions of individuals; and cultural values and expectations. Sex is thereby related by means of gender to the division of labor and power in society, to resources and responsibilities in relationships, to a sense of femaleness and maleness in the individual, and to a variety of communication behaviors.

The relationships among sex and gender can be ambiguous, complicating the scholar's task in studying women and language, or gender and communication. Sex has generally been conceived as fixed and dichotomous, with gender being conceptualized as more variable, even though acknowledged to connect in some way to sex. The extent to which biological characteristics play a direct role in gender expectations is unclear. Most gender measurements do not include aspects of the body, yet physical characteristics are salient components of people's definitions for femininity and masculinity (Chodorow, 1995; Deaux & Lewis, 1984; Myers & Gonda, 1982; Spence & Sawin, 1985). We suspect body characteristics more closely link to ideas of gender than previous measurement tools or language have reflected.

To complicate matters further, many scholars use the term, gender, rather than sex in comparisons of women and men because they believe that gender emphasizes social asymmetries in power and privilege rather than biology as origins of difference. But usually in such cases, scholars have compared women and men, not differentially gendered individuals, and whatever differences the comparisons yield are more accurately described as sex differences. Women and men vary markedly in conformity to gender expectations, at least within dominant U.S. culture, and individuals' conformity varies from situation to situation, yet regardless of the variations, women and men are dichotomized by their apparent sex.

The conceptual complexity and ambiguity associated with the term, gender, led us to wonder how scholars and writers might respond if asked to reconsider the meanings associated with the term. We invited papers for a special issue of Women and Language in which contributors would reconceptualize gender. By presenting a variety of reconceptualizations we hoped to stimulate widespread efforts to reconsider and move beyond current ideas.

We received a total of 57 submissions, some including more than one piece, and tried to group their central themes as a way of discerning the broad meanings conveyed by our invitation. Three categories helped us distinguish among the rethinkings apparent in these submissions. The first, expressed by the largest proportion (44%), contained critiques of traditional gender roles, ideologies, and institutional practices that maintain sex-based constraints on opportunity. The authors often called for social change, either explicitly or implicitly, and pointed to communication as a basis for change. In these papers, rethinking entailed a critical reframing of conventional sex role expectations, to underscore and correct their dysfunctions.

A second group of papers (32%) emphasized nonconventional behavior for women and men, often after first reviewing conventional expectations. As did papers in the first group, many in the second group critiqued traditional sex role expectations and called for changes in gender relations and sex-based opportunities. The majority went beyond critiques and calls for change, however, by providing evidence for resistance to traditional roles and for transcendence of conventional gender constraints. Most portrayed transcendence of conventional gender constraints by a blending of behaviors expected of women and men. Rethinking in these papers entailed a loosening of gender constraints through redefinition of sex role expectations, with the result that behaviors need not be gendered.

The third group of papers (24%) depicted gender as a system other than (or in addition to) sets of social expectations for the behavior of women and men. These papers called attention to the fluidity of gender expectations and to factors that problematize conceptualizations based on two categories of social beliefs, one for women and the other for men. These papers did not ignore traditional gender expectations, but showed how individual differences and demands of situations could undermine gender effects. As a group, these papers demonstrated that gender effects are multidetermined, by historical convention, social position, and social situation. Some added the body as a determinant since inconsistencies between the body and gender identity are often aversive and demanding of change. Rethinking in these papers entailed a reconsideration of categorical systems that oversimplify and distort gender effects.

Although our depiction of rethinking in these submissions necessarily oversimplifies their contributions, it helps us understand responses to our call for papers. Our idea was to engage contributors in an exercise of reconceptualization, to move beyond current conceptualizations of gender. But we asked contributors to rethink gender rather than to reconceptualize it and received a much broader range of responses than anticipated. One group of authors rethought traditional (stereotypical) gender beliefs, illustrated their shortcomings, and called for correction of gender-based inequities. Another group rethought traditional beliefs by examining the ways in which these are changing and could continue to change in the future. A third group rethought the ways we think about gender beliefs and challenged the simplicity of our categorical system of expectations. This latter group especially provides a rich source of ideas for reconceptualizations. We consequently included as many submissions from the third group as from the others combined and start the issue with these papers.

We begin with Finley and Norman's, "The Concept of Social Parallax," because this paper cautions us to examine reconceptualizations carefully before dismissing them as old ideas. Old ideas in new contexts can represent later stages of ideological development or new bases for their usefulness. They can help us avoid the mistakes of earlier conceptualizations while retaining their historical and contemporary value. Thus, to determine whether gender categories, gender difference, and biological essentialism are mistaken or useful requires an evaluation of their reason for development context of description, and target of application. We found the concept of social parallax helpful in recognizing the contributions of papers that revisited old ideas.

Most papers in this first section illustrate the ways in which social and biological factors maintain variety in gender models. In "Reconceptualizing Gender through Intercultural Dialogue: The Case of the Tex-Mex Madonna," Willis and Gonzalez recount the intercultural negotiations through which a minority group's gender conformity was redefined. In "From the `Margins' to the `Mainstrearn': Gender Identity and Fraternity Men's Discourse," Kiesling illustrates the interpersonal negotiations through which gender models are enacted and gender role attributes confirmed in identity. These papers sensitize us to the cultural and situational arbitrariness of gender expectations and to their continual negotiation and recreation in social interaction.

In contrast to socially constructed sources of gender variety are the biological bases of gender, and four papers here help us rethink the importance of these essential aspects of self and their common classification as female or male. In "To Have and To Be: Sex, Gender and the Paradox of Change," Sender derives a nearly inevitable connection between sex and gender from changes in gender-defined behaviors experienced by two fictional characters who unexpectedly grow reproductive organs of the opposite sex. By comparing these accounts with those of transsexuals who seek sex reassignment, she demonstrates the importance of consistency between subjective experiences of one's body and behavior and its origin in two, mutually exclusive sexes that are ascribed unique sets of behaviors. In "Bodies that Don't Matter: The Discursive Effacement of Sexual Difference," Norton also argues that gender derives its meanings from the body and that anti-essential theorizing trivializes the consequences of a sexed body. To understand gender effects and limit gender dysfunctions requires relating the biological and the cultural aspects of experience. In "What Does It Mean to Write from the Body?" Cubbison relates the biological and cultural through experiences of her own body, and demonstrates their central role in her sense of identity. Her account is consistent with Norton's ideas that gender derives meaning from the body and cannot be experienced or understood independent of the body. Gender as it is lived, rather than defined, is an ultimately personal and variable experience.

The material varieties of bodies and their meanings are difficult to accommodate with a gender system based on two sex categories and their associated sets of behaviors. In "Willa Cather and Brandon Teena: The Politics of Passing," Helvie directly addresses the inadequacies of binary categorizations to accommodate individual differences in sex and gender conformity. She demonstrates the difficulties in social coordination posed by individuals who pass between the categories and the frustration that frequently accompanies inability to categorize them. Like Sender and Norton, she criticizes the socially constructed duality of sex and its limitations for gender. These authors do not claim the body as a simple stimulus for gender constructions; rather the experience of the body becomes an essential element in what individuals do with gender.

Papers in our second group highlight traditional gender expectations and their challenges for social change. Two papers highlight the challenge for education. In "Classroom Talk: Coed Classes that Work for Girls," Hill, Grady, Foster, Cantor, and Allen show us the importance of recognizing sex differences in learning styles among high school students. Awareness of differences in style enables teachers to tailor instruction accordingly, thereby engaging and empowering girls and boys equally. In "Keeping It Straight: Student Discourse and the Constitution of Gender and Sexuality," Remlinger illustrates how traditional heterosexual ideas about homosexuality are maintained in a conservative college community, despite creative attempts by lesbians and gays to create positive meanings for themselves. Both papers portray challenges to traditional attitudes, the first by teachers in high school classrooms and the second by lesbian and gay members of a college community. But whereas high school teachers have power to legitimize diversity, lesbian and gays appear less powerful. These authors rethink the power disadvantages associated with marginal groups (i.e. women in traditional classrooms and homosexuals in a heterosexual community) and call for communication that will eliminate disadvantage while legitimizing difference. A knowledge of gender effects can aid creative strategies for change.

The next five papers also address gender expectations, but with a focus on current and future changes in roles. Here we find instances of cross-sex behavior, conventional masculine and feminine behaviors redefined to be gender free, and use of material culture to liberate individuals from gender constraints. One story and two personal essays depict women in roles conventionally ascribed to men. In "School for Courtship," Bellman spins a love story in which the female character dominates the male and directs the course of their relationship. Only by agreeing to play a myriad of power relations under her direction can he negotiate continuation of their relationship. In "Little Woman," Paley describes her body building accomplishments as remarkable for a woman her age. Yet, among a younger generation's students, exposed to lessening gender constraints, she observes that women's accomplishments of strength are "no big deal"; body building is becoming gender neutral. In "Notes of a Non-gendered `Ecological' Writer," Roberts argues that writing style also should not be gendered. Direct and concise expression are not masculine; sentimentality and sensitivity to ambiguity are not feminine. Writers should be free to use whatever tools they need to express their ideas without being categorized as masculinist or feminist, or masculine or feminine. As we move from an apparent role reversal in Bellman's love story to a reclamation of writing style, we find behaviors conventionally ascribed to men being progressively liberated from gender expectations.

The tendency to reconceptualize previously gendered domains as gender neutral emerges partially in Gallas' "Bad Boys and Silent Girls: What Children know about Language and Power" and fully in Leblanc's "Razor Girls: Genre and Gender in Cyberpunk Fiction." Gallas relates the methods used by first and second grade girls; and boys to control interaction in the classroom. Girls and boys both seek power with strategies constrained by gender. Boys manipulate behavior more actively than do girls; girls learn to use silence as a vehicle of control. In contrast Leblanc describes three female cyborgs of cyberpunk fiction, two of whom cross gender boundaries by taking on conventional male attributes and one of whom transcends gender altogether by moving into subject positions beyond her own. The crossing and destruction of gender boundaries is enabled by a futuristic technology and its enhancement of physical and mental abilities. Gender, which has traditionally linked females and males with different abilities, is therefore outmoded by technology. Whereas Gallas' students use gender appropriate strategies to achieve gender-neutral goals, the cyborgs in Leblanc's accounts use technology to do both. Access to ability enhancement can destroy gender boundaries.

Throughout the selection process we were aware that our own criteria for reconceptualization would restrict the ideas presented in this issue. We hope that our choices will encourage questions and further development of ideas rather than exclude additional possibilities. These papers do not fully answer questions about the nature, location, or basis for gender; they do present provocative alternatives. We invite readers to peruse this group of papers with our goal for their selection in mind. In what ways can we think, and talk, and write, and do our research with a clearer and more useful concept of gender? To do so we will surely abandon the dichotomous questions of whether genders are primarily personal or cultural, socially or biologically constructed, categorical or continuous, dynamic or static; and we will recognize the role of all such qualities in our thinking.

We conclude hoping that the sum of thinking reflected in these papers generates productive "rethinking." We suggest some criteria to guide that thinking toward a useful reconceptualizing of the idea of gender. Such criteria include a necessity to recognize the impact of cultural values, social position and privilege, communication context and social situation as well as biological realities. By using such criteria to guide our thinking, we will remain sensitive to the knowledge that simple lists of beliefs about women and men will reflect the positions, context and biological realities of those who construct the lists or enable their construction. Such criteria will remind us that whatever we conceive gender to be will have both personal and social significance, and we will remember that gender specifics will vary widely while general domains of life experience might remain gender relevant.

Is there some way to integrate these alternatives into a unified system? We think a successful integration will be sensitive to many of the ideas presented in this special issue of Women and Language. As we invited our contributors to rethink the meanings associated with ideas of gender, so we invite our readers.

References

Chodorow, N. J. (1995). Gender as a personal and cultural construction. Signs, 20, 516-544.

Deaux, K. (1993, March). Commentary: Sorry, wrong number-a reply to Gentile's call. Psychological Science, 4, 125-126.

Deaux, K. & Lewis, L. L. (1984). Structure of gender stereotypes: Interrelationships among components and gender label. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 991-1004.

Miller, J. B. & Taylor, A. (1993, October). Qualities and contexts of gender. Paper presented at annual conference of the Organization for the Study of Communication Language and Gender.

Myers, A. M. & Gonda, G. (1982). Utility of the masculinity-femininity construct: Comparison of traditional and androgyny approaches. Journal of personality and social Psychology, 43, 514-523.

Spence, J. T. & Sawin, L. L. (1985). Images of masculinity and femininity: A reconceptualization. In V. E. Oleary, R. K. Unger, & B. S. Wallston (Eds.), Women, gender, and social psychology. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Taylor, A. (1995). Language and the construction of gender: Clarifying ideas about gender. In Lawrence F. Bouton and Yamuna Kachru (eds.) Studies in the Linguistic Sciences, 25(2), 11-27.

Taylor, A. (1996, May). A proposal for a theory of gender in communication. Paper presented at Eastern Communication Association Annual Convention, New York City.

Taylor, A. & Miller, J. B. (1995). Gender diversity: Conceptions of femininity and masculinity. Cultural Performances, Proceedings of the Third Berkeley Women and Language Conference. Mary Bucholtz, A. C. Liang, Laurel A. Sutton and Caitlin Hines, eds. Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group, University of California. pp. 729-745.

Unger, R. A. (1990). Imperfect reflections of reality: Psychology constructs gender. In R. T. Hare-Mustin and & J. Marecek, (Eds.). Making a Difference: Psychology and the Construction of Gender (pp. 102-149). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Allen, Donna, and Paula Kassell. "Casey Geddes Miller (1919-1997): an appreciation." Women and Language, vol. 20, no. 1, 1997, p. 1. Academic OneFile, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FA19569699%2FAONE%3Fu%3Ds8492775%26sid%3DAONE%26xid%3D2106c7dc. Accessed 19 Oct. 2018.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A19569699