To the editors:
I read "The Great Electric Meter Mystery" (in Neighborhood News, June 16, 1989) and I am willing to bet that Pat Clark of the Citizens Utility Board is a woman. Why? Because the writer, Ben Joravsky, refers to John Hogan of Commonwealth Edison as a spokesman, but Pat Clark as spokesperson.
Unfortunately, I read or hear it all too often in the media. So many times I read "chairman" or "spokesman" in the newspapers when the reference is to a man. Yet as soon as I read the word "chairperson" or "spokesperson" I know that the individual referred to is most likely a woman.
The English language has come to reflect changing attitudes towards women. Gender-neutral terms are new and were created to replace old, familiar words. Often they seem clumsy. But the use of progressive language should be encouraged so that eventually the terminology will be used comfortably by everyone. When, however, words such as "chairman" and "chairperson" are used inconsistently--and in the same article, no less--the effect is that the gender of one (Ms. Clark) is called unnecessarily to the reader's attention, whereas the gender of the other (Mr. Hogan) is not.
Consistency is the key. Either refer to men as "chairmen" and women as "chairwomen," or even to both as "chairmen." Preferably both would be "chairpersons." But the references Mr. Joravsky made, however, are totally inexcusable!