What’s up with gender?

February 25th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet


I’ve noticed a change in your writings. Why do you now use the word gender instead of sex?

∼ Kristal M.


Dear Kristal,

What an astute observation. We’re a bit humbled that you are paying such close attention to our words. The answer to your question is simple, but the implications are not.

We cut back on using the word sex in our Thought Tools and Ask the Rabbis (especially in headings) because it was getting flagged as one of the words that could cause servers to reject our mailing. In other words, people who were signed up to get our messages would not get that one because it would be flagged as junk or spam.

You have probably come across words that your computer flags when you write them. For example, our computers encourage us to reject anything ending in ‘man,’ like gentleman or fireman. We just read that there is a new update that changes ‘pro-life’ to ‘anti-choice’. When we are writing, we ignore those suggestions. However, we do want our words to make it to our readers, so we do find ourselves adjusting mailings in response to warnings that our writings will be blocked.

This hyper-policing is actually more than a nuisance; it is a danger. The government, threats of lawsuits and other powers force newspapers, teachers and all of us to restrict our speech. Control of language leads to control of minds.

While we can appreciate the desire not to have sexually explicit material surprise people, there is a danger in the increased censorship of language and ideas being promoted today. It’s another example where the line between helpful and harmful is strikingly narrow.

You might be interested to know that in the Lord’s language, Hebrew, there is no word that means both gender and an act of physical intimacy between a member of each gender. So we are not too far away from truth when we tend to favor the gender word rather than the sex word.


Keep reading carefully,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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