Did She Cut Her Hair Too Short or What?
The L.A. Times has a story about the sentencing of scientist William French Anderson for lewd acts with a child. It has this puzzling passage:
Blair Berk, one of Anderson’s lawyers, said his client would be targeted by inmates as a child molester, so a prison term would mean “either a death sentence or solitary confinement.”
The story purports to be quoting Berk directly. So how did the reporter miss the fact that Berk is a female?
A quote from a written interview? An editing error? A phone interview and Ms. Berk has a very deep voice? Or could it be [gasp!] a media conspiracy?DRJ (e69ca7) — 2/3/2007 @ 10:36 pm
Since the LAT article has been thru at least four layers of editors, and the photo on the linked web page was probably posted by someone without extensive journalism experience, the LAT article must be right.
/sPerfect Sense (b6ec8c) — 2/4/2007 @ 1:36 am
Grammatical bias for the masculine gender? No sarcasm or feminist screed intended. I do it and most writers as well, because it is the accepted form, in examples and hypotheticals.nk (77d95e) — 2/4/2007 @ 4:53 am
Registration wall for the linked story. But I found it in Wikipedia.
Death sentence or solitary confinement for child molesters is perfectly fine with me. But the Wikipedia entry says that one of his convictions was for continuous sexual abuse — the sentencing scheme for which is what the Supreme Court just struck down in Cunningham. Which means that he will either have a retrial, have that particular sentence vacated or even be set free.nk (77d95e) — 2/4/2007 @ 5:47 am
You think Cunningham removes 288.5 sentencing? I don’t think that’s right. I don’t mean to threadjack here, but I don’t think that particular piece of legal analysis is sound.
–JRMJRM (6a87f8) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:30 am
Well, yes. 288.5 is what the Supreme Court struck down, disregarding the California Supreme Court’s interpretation in People v. Black. On the other hand, I do not know the record in Anderson’s case. If he did not receive an elevated sentence unde 288.5, it is not an issue. I am going by news articles I Googled which say that he was “convicted” of continuous sexual abuse.nk (4cd0c2) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:59 am
In standard (non-PC) English, the masculine subsumes the feminine. This, if the sex of a person to whom one refers is unknown, the masculine pronouns are used, and the use of such does not imply, save to the grammatically uneducated, that the person is male. If the feminine pronouns are used, that is a positive statement that the subject is female.
Thus, the Times was grammatically correct — even though thay were clearly poor in doing their research. That, apparently, is nothing new.Dana (556f76) — 2/4/2007 @ 2:55 pm
Dana, I appreciate where you’re coming from on this. I certainly think being offended that someone used “he” when they meant “person of either gender” is extremely silly.
But English is one of the greatest languages in the world because it is so adjustable and adapts to new conventions and ideas very easily.
One such idea is the modern one in academia to use “She” as the gender neutral. It’s been going on long enough that any professional writer out to know about it. English has changed now, and “he” doesn’t really mean what it did ten years ago. Not saying it should be this way. I don’t even care. I’m just pointing out that we probably should get used to being more explicit if we don’t know the gender.
The article should have said “The Attorney’s client” or some such.
No need to be upset about it. Yeah it’s PC. Symptom of these times. English’s adaptability is an asset, and this might be the price.Dustin (ea244e) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:09 pm
Oh, I’m not saying that “she” is the proper neutral either. It’s just the case that both conventions have been absorbed in English and the only way to clearly write an implied potential gender uncertainty is to avoid a gender word.Dustin (ea244e) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:11 pm
With all due respect, that’s a stupid rule. You can’t really be defending it.Patterico (a8fa4a) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:26 pm
I agree with Dana that some of us (older folk?) were taught that masculine is the default when gender is unknown, but fortunately modern colleges are training students to be gender-sensitive.DRJ (e69ca7) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:50 pm
Putting the grammatical quibble aside, how could they not know her gender? They quoted her!Patterico (a8fa4a) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:52 pm
Maybe it as a typo. Law journals are full of typo-related legal humor. Why can’t there be newspaper typos?DRJ (e69ca7) — 2/4/2007 @ 10:59 pm
Or maybe the author became confused and used “his” because of the male client, Anderson.DRJ (e69ca7) — 2/4/2007 @ 11:06 pm
Patterico, with all due respect, Dana is correct. Grammatical rules aren’t good, bad or stupid; they simply are. And in standard English, the masculine pronoun is employed when the sex of the referent is either male or undetermined.
Whether the LA Times knew or should have known of Berk’s sex is a separate matter entirely. I don’t see why you think the fact that they quoted her is dispositive, as we don’t know where they got the quote.
[I disagree. Grammatical rules are stupid when they impede communication. And for a newspaper to employ a grammatical rule like this, in a situation like this, would be especially stupid, as it would open them up to potential ridicule — as has happened here. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is what happened here anyway. It was either a typo or a more substantive error.) — P]Xrlq (79e3c2) — 2/4/2007 @ 11:08 pm
the problem is naming girls “blair”. why are there so many female “madisons” now and so few “jeffersons” and “monroes”? i hate it. i want female names to be feminine. if you come in here in a skirt calling yourself “mckenzie” or “cameron”, you get the hairy eyeball. it’s an easy snark to say that women being given gender-ambiguous, corporate-sounding names is the last step necessary before marketing them to customers of both genders.assistant devil's advocate (af930e) — 2/5/2007 @ 12:04 am
An easy enough mistake, see: Underwood, Blair.Matt (52bc25) — 2/5/2007 @ 1:41 pm
I think you have misread Cunningham. The triad for 288.5 is 6/12/16, and Cunningham got the aggravated sentence of 16 years.
Under the circumstances in Cunningham, SCOTUS said only that he could not get the 16-year sentence; a 12-year sentence would not have been challengeable under Blakely/Apprendi.
–JRMJRM (355c21) — 2/5/2007 @ 3:22 pm
The grammatical argument makes no sense because they could have easily verified her sex. There was no reason her sex would be ambiguous. She is not a hypothetical attorney or something, she is a real person who is either male or female. They presumably verified all the other facts. If it is grammatically correct it is so demonstrably by accident. They botched it, the article is in error.
It’s actually worse than this – a paper that purports to know the local scene has just shown their unfamiliarity with a local VIP. They should have known she is female in spite of her misleading name.Amphipolis (fb9e95) — 2/5/2007 @ 6:53 pm
I don’t disagree, JRM. If Anderson only got twelve under 288.5, I also do not see an issue. I don’t even know that he was convicted under 288.5. I only read the “continuous sexual abuse” in Wikipedia and Google articles. I don’t know the actual record.nk (32c481) — 2/5/2007 @ 8:35 pm
BTW, what I like about American English as opposed to the “Queen’s English” is that we do not so much have “grammatical rules” as we have “common usage”. Which addresses both Patterico’s and Xrlq’s points: That we should speak in a way that we will be understood (Patterico) but there is a way that people need us to speak in order to understand us (Xrlq).nk (2ab789) — 2/5/2007 @ 9:30 pm