"Apple offers its own word-processing program called Pages that you can have for $20.00. Trusting in the quality of all things Apple, I bought it, and congratulated myself on my thrift.
Pages has traits that are not immediately apparent, however. While it’s a sturdy little word processor, its true personality is not revealed until you use the proofreader — or Proofreadress, as I now think of her. Yes, she’s female all right. Seems to have been designed and programmed by the women’s-studies department of the Cupertino community college.
In a column about Rick Santorum, I had used the word “spokesman.” The proofreader flagged it: “Gender specific expression. Consider replacing with ‘speaker,’ ‘representative,’ or ‘advocate.’” Hmm. How would that work? The sentence read, “A spokesman said ‘there is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich on Medicare.’” None of the suggested words would accurately convey who was talking. Every one would have changed the meaning and confused the reader.
Pages just hates gender-specific expressions and is constantly on guard for them. In a column titled “Assad’s Useful Idiots” I had written that Vogue magazine “apparently immune to shame, ran a fawning profile of the dictator’s wife.” Proofreadress was on it. “Gender specific expression. A gender neutral word like ‘spouse’ may be appropriate.” Really, Proofreadress? Spouse is a legal word, good for real-estate transactions and rhyming in Les Miserables’s “Master of the House.” But as a substitute for wife, it’s ungainly and odd. Wife is a perfectly good word — in fact, it’s a perfectly good status, one that I’m glad to enjoy.
Proofreadress was also unhappy about the next paragraph of that column, when I quoted Vogue to the effect that Asma Al-Assad was “glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Uh-oh. “Gender specific expression. Consider replacing with ‘women,’ ‘people,’ or ‘individuals.’” It was a quote, of course, and therefore untouchable. But imagine writing “the freshest and most magnetic of first individuals.”