Sunday 4 December 2016

Robert Fisk: It's a puzzle why women now want a sex change

Robert Fisk

Published 14/08/2010 | 05:00

In the file 'Tootsie' actor Dustin Hoffman plays actorMichael Dorsey,who, in a bid to get a role, transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels. But is Dorothy an actor or an actress?
In the file 'Tootsie' actor Dustin Hoffman plays actorMichael Dorsey,who, in a bid to get a role, transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels. But is Dorothy an actor or an actress?

A week ago, in a newspaper article, I planted a little trap for our sub-editors. I referred to Vita Sackville-West as a 'poetess'. And sure enough, the sub (or 'subess') changed it -- as I knew he or she would -- to 'poet'. Aha! Soon as I saw it, I knew I could write this week about the mysterious -- not to say mystical -- grammar of feminism and political correctness.

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At least, I guess feminism was the start of it all, for was it not in the Eighties and early Nineties that newspapers started turning feminine nouns into male nouns? This was the age, was it not, when an 'actress' became an 'actor', when a 'priestess' became a 'priest' -- which does sound more sensible -- and when a 'conductress' became a 'conductor'. In Britain, a policeman and policewoman have turned into 'police officers' (even if they are constables). In Ireland, a 'bean garda siochana' (policewomen or woman civic guard) turned a few years ago into a 'garda' - simply guard or (I suppose) 'policeperson'.

I've always been bemused by this desire of women to turn themselves, semantically speaking, into men. 'Twas never the other way round. Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have never demanded to be called 'actresses', nor did John Barbirolli ask to be a 'conductress'.

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