#SaysTheEditor: Man Versus Person


This one’s been largely ignored, and I’m glad of it. It’s not worth the brouhaha over it. Leave the fuss over word choice to us editors and the rest of you educate yourself on what your attention is trying to be diverted from, okay?

But before you go read (and it’s a fascinating article, beautifully written, and well worth your time), let’s talk about a couple of words. PERSON. MAN.

Used in fiction as a broad brushstroke, there’s nothing wrong with these words. They serve very specific purposes. Calling someone a person is, IN FICTION, a way to almost dehumanize or diminish them. Like they are not worth the time or energy to determine if they are a man or a woman. They’re probably going to flit across the page, never to be seen again.

Or maybe the intent is to create something ambiguous. To help create an air of mystery. There’s a person in that shadow. If it’s a man, maybe he’s the bad guy. If it’s a woman, maybe she’s a victim. Or maybe he’s a cowering sort of man, his collar flipped up so he can bury his chin in it and try to hide his fear. Maybe the woman is a kick-ass heroine.

But we don’t know. We don’t know anything, other than there’s a presence.

And maybe we’re even wrong. Maybe it’s not a person. Maybe it’s Bigfoot, an alien, a vampire, a robot.

And think about calling someone a man. There’s an immediate mental image there: chest hair, developed pecs, probably short hair on his head, a square jaw, broad hands, deep voice, muscles… I don’t need to tell you guys all the things that people in general conjure up when the word MAN comes into play. (And yes, I’ve quite probably been reading too many romances again, so send me some manuscripts that AREN’T romance for a bit, okay? Although if you’ve got a romance, clearly, I’m primed and ready, so send me that, too.)

So. Broad brushstrokes. They are helpful things. They cue the reader to subtexts and mental images. And even if those broad brushstrokes are then proven wrong later on — the person was, indeed, Bigfoot (hey, I’d like to read that one, so get busy!), or the man had a soft body, a flabby belly, a bad combover of four really long dark strands across an otherwise bald head — we at least have a place to begin from.

In fiction, those beginning places are necessary.

But in real life?

Well… hard to say. Oh, there are still suppositions that can be drawn with each term. And that’s where the political correctness comes in.

Because, let’s face it: phrases like “Man up” and “Throw/run/jump like a girl” and all the rest carry an awful lot of baggage. Negative baggage. And we’re in an era where many are struggling to erase that negativity. Where “throw like a girl” can be a compliment.* Where maybe “Be a man” means acting in ways that go contrary to a person’s (ha) nature.

We can argue the merit of eradicating these phrases until the sun comes up three days from now and we all drop over from exhaustion. I’m not interested in arguing. I’m interested in how we use words and what they say about us, about our view of each other, about the pictures we paint when we speak.

In the case of Man versus Person I’m actually referring to, and the article that accompanies it, there really isn’t a difference. The person chosen wasn’t chosen because of gender. The choice was made because of newsworthiness. Man or woman. Hell, one year, it was the entire planet.

I would argue here that gender truly doesn’t matter. You’re the person of the year — which is possibly better than being planet of the year. Doesn’t matter if you’re man enough, or if you throw like a girl. What matters is that the world was talking about you.

Like always, stop and think about your words. About the words of others. Is the argument justified? Does being a man mean a guy can’t cry? Does being girly really mean dolls and pink and lace?

Is the Man of the Year any sort of improvement over Person of the Year?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think that insisting we all use the gender-based language instead of the more generic term does exactly the opposite — it implies that there’s competition out there. You’re the Man of the Year. So bring on the Woman of the Year. The Athlete of the Year. The Rocket Scientist of the Year. Entertainer of the Year. Politician of the Year. Businessman of the Year. BusinessWOMAN of the year.

Move over, baby, because these categories can go on forever. And maybe, just maybe, one of them might be better than you.

(Forgive me if I lobby hard for my own choice of Doctor of the Year. I bet you long-time readers will know who I’d choose time and again to bestow that one on.)

Men versus person. I’ll let you decide.

*Old picture picked pretty randomly, awesome shot


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