I can’t, I’m late for my ovular.

By way of Alas, I just came across the word “ovular” for the first time. No, not the zoological term referring to ova or ovules; the feminist term referring to a seminar, but without the masculinist implications of the original term.

Ampersand at Alas cites the word in an essay by Christina Hoff Sommers, who traces it back to Joyce Trebilcot, one of her colleagues in feminist philosophy at Clark University. Sommers’s essay is vehemently anti-feminist, and she uses the term “ovular” to point out how feminism was “being hijacked by gender wars eccentrics.” While I would love to go on about Sommers’s essay, you may as well just read Ampersand’s post because he does a better job of critiquing it than I ever would, and says a lot of the same things.

I will take this opportunity to bring up that other semen word that feminists also have a problem with, dissemination. Whereas Ampersand points out that few feminists in the history of the women’s movement have actually been concerned enough with the word “seminar” to replace it with a gynocentric term, avoiding the use of disseminate does seem to be common in feminist literature. But unlike Sommers would imply, it is more often replaced with a neutral term like “distribution” rather than a gynocentric term like “disovulation,” and for good reason: making up gynocentric words to avoid masculinism in language is a good way to get labelled a crazy eccentric and to discredit the rest of your work. That’s why most feminists, even the radical feminists that I’m aware of, don’t do that. With the exception of its pronouns, English is suprisingly versatile and it’s usually not hard to find neutral language without having to make it up.

So is there a neutral alternative to seminar? Of course! How about colloquium, caucus, forum, workshop, tutorial, or symposium? In fact, these are all terms that I’ve heard real live feminists use. Sommers’ complaint, as we know, is that old spectre the straw-woman fallacy.

[Careful readers will notice that I use the gynocentric term “straw woman” rather than a neutral term like “straw person.” As in the case of Trebilcot and her ovulars, my use of straw woman is political; it’s a tactic for drawing attention to way gender in language can be taken for granted. However, unlike Trebilcot’s ovulars, the term straw woman is quickly gaining currency as a legitimate alternative to the original formulation, and so my use of it cannot be cited as evidence that I am eccentric, or that I am making up words. A Google search for “straw woman” fallacy actually turns up more results that one for “straw man” fallacy, indicating that the choice of terms has become more a matter of taste than a reflection of gendered norms.]

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