“Awomen”: Rep. Cleaver’s Prayer Captures Broader Controversy Over “Degenderizing” Language

We recently discussed the decision of schools to stop using the gender-neutral term “alumni” to combat sexist language.  That controversy came to mind yesterday when Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., altered the traditional ending of “amen”  for a prayer before the House of Representatives. Instead, he ended with “Amen and awoman.” This minor controversy raises a broader point as we change or bar common terms that are not gender specific.

First for the obvious.  Amen is not a reference to males. Originating in Hebrew texts, it means “So be it.”  Presumably, as an ordained United Methodist pastor, Cleaver knows that. Nevertheless, the importance of making the correction seemed greater than being right.

This is precisely what we have been encountering on campuses. In the controversy over the term “alumni”, the same logic controlled.  One of the schools,Vermont, first stated that it wou;ld only tolerate “non-binary, gender-neutral” terms. It then admits that “alumni” is gender neutral and is “inclusive of male and female.” Yet, it still states categorically that it “adheres to an outdated, limited concept of gender.” No explanation was given how it adheres to gender bias as a gender neutral term. The school simply declared “we see you. We value you. With this change, we recognize the importance of language and its ability to empower those who have come through our VCFA programs.” Yet, it ignored the actual language and only empowers to the degree that it replaces a gender neutral term with a gender neutral term.

As discussed earlier, the language changes is is reminiscent of our own debate at George Washington over the use of the Colonials as a moniker. The student organizers asked “When we talk about the Colonial in history, what does it mean? And is that really what we want our school identity to be?” The emphasis however is the history of colonialism in the world, not the Colonial as a term in the United States. Just as we strive to understand the meaning and traditions of other countries, there should be a modicum of effort to recognize our own meanings and traditions. The Colonials fought against foreign rule. They were not advocates of colonialism. For those interested in GW, that is part of understanding our history and our values. It simply does not matter that the Colonials were anti-colonialism. The victory is pretending that they are something that they were not and then changing the term to reject a falsely claimed meaning.

It is not clear if Cleaver thought he was complying with new House rules under Speaker Nancy Pelosi on sexist language but those rules address gender-specific pronouns and terms such as “man,” “woman,” “mother” and “son.”

Amen is not a sexist term. The question is whether it really matters or whether, as with Vermont and other schools, gender-neutral terms should be replaced to achieve a faux gender victory. What is most bizarre is that Cleaver took a gender-neutral term and then added a gender-specific term by adding “Awomen.” That is a curious victory for gender neutrality.

130 thoughts on ““Awomen”: Rep. Cleaver’s Prayer Captures Broader Controversy Over “Degenderizing” Language”

  1. It literally is an acknowledgement that the word contains three letters , men.” At its face value it is complete insanity. You shall not utter a term if it contains ANY reference to the male gender unless you also invoke a term that references the female gender. If you follow the slippery slope it leads to a world where the mere presence of a male will be intolerable in a public space. Don’t claim to be a progressive when you promote policies that lead to regressive results.

    What this really exposes is a policy that intends to usurp an imaginary barrier between a female and power, societal power. Our laws contain ZERO regulations on gender in regards to obtaining political power. In fact, our laws contain zero regulations with regards to gender for obtaining any position in any field, politics or otherwise.

    it is simple fact that our foundational laws contain artifacts that seem to promote only one gender. It is likely that some of the men who wrote those laws intended that they apply only to men. Yet, look at the final result… the freest nation on Earth. So, while they didn’t include artifacts representing the female gender they also did not explicitly exclude the female gender. The foundational idea is that ALL HUMANS are free to pursue happiness.

    My point is that when you acknowledge a term as offensive because it contains a referential artifact of gender you are practicing exclusion not inclusion. Don’t regress.

  2. This was just silly. Who does this?

    CRAZY ppl, that’s who.

    It’s like dumping extra gasoline on the fire, bc ‘Why Not’?

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