Casebooks, Change and the Masculine Pronoun

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8 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    “The most substantial change, begun just a couple of generations ago, by Prof. Knapp’s book, was to abandon the exclusive use of the masculine pronoun in the text.”

    Currently the trend seems to be towards the exclusive use of the feminine pronoun. Is this an improvement?

  2. NewProf says:

    Brett, probably not. It seems the best practice would be to get over the alleged grammatical incorrectness of using “they” in this context. It’s what I always do, and when one points out with pedantic earnestness the alleged problem I give them the “get a life” look.

  3. Shag from Brookline says:

    I’ve noted recently shifting gender references in a writing that can be annoying and confusing. Perhaps we might revert to he/she or (s)he or s/he. But using the feminine exclusively is a form of affirmative gender action; what’s wrong with that? “She’s” come a long way, baby, so flaunt it. I’m a supportive “he.”

  4. One rewriting trick I like is to give these anonymous individuals names. That makes it easy to switch up the genders or use only female examples without causing the pronouns — masculine or feminine — to be jarring.

    Another way of looking at the issue is that if “she” causes the reader’s eyebrows to rise in a way that “he” wouldn’t have, then the feminine pronoun is still marked and the masculine pronoun unmarked and one (see what I did there?) should use “she” until the eyebrows stop rising.

  5. Scott Fruehwald says:

    There has been a major paradigm shift in the past few years in the Carolina Academic Press, A Context and Practice Casebook Series. These casebooks are intended to reflect the Carnegie Report’s criticism of legal education. You should look particularly at Michael Hunter Schwartz and Denise Riebe, Contracts: A Context and Practice Casebook (CAP 2009). Also, Professor Schwartz has written an article about writing casebooks, Improving Legal Education by Improving Casebooks: Fourteen Things Casebooks Can Do to Produce Better and More Learning, Elon Law Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2011. This is also available on his SSRN page.

  6. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Scott: yes, I’ve seen that series, which is great. The issue raised is at what point does one declare a paradigm shift? I doubt one book or one series does it. I haven’t witnessed it yet in American law schools.

  7. Most of the time, I ignore gender pronouns. The few times I notice them, they’re in the feminine form; in those moments, I become all too aware of the publisher’s attempts to mix up the genders, and I find it distracting. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to name everyone as James G. suggests, but he has a really good point.

    I wonder how soon it will be before “casebooks” become searchable databases/ebooks stored in electronic form.

  8. Jimbino says:

    Yes, it’s jarring to see “she” or “her” when expecting the masculine pronoun.

    What’s more jarring is to realize that Amerikans confuse gender and sex. They need to get out more and learn some foreign languages. Like German, where a spoon is masculine, a fork feminine and a knife neuter. A young woman is also neuter. It has nothing to do with sex.

    In Portuguese, a child and a person are feminine. It has nothing to do with sex.

    Amerikans need to learn to say, “Everyone needs to bring his own pencil.” Use of ungrammatical and PC “they” leads to stupidities like:

    “As soon as the parents bring the kid in, give them their circumcision.”
    “Every pregnant woman needs to have their blood pressure monitored.”