Mankind vs. Humankind

Recently there was a student in the news because she was docked a point for using the word “mankind” instead of the word “humankind”.  This happened on an English paper at Northern Arizona University.  I can remember being at TCU and being encouraged to use what is considered by some to be more gender neutral words such as humankind instead of mankind.  If you have never had to have this conversation before, then you are a lucky person.

I want to start out by saying that I understand why certain people want others to use words such as humankind over mankind.  I understand that word choice is very important when trying to get thoughts across to people.  I understand that to effectively get across an idea you would use different word choice depending on your audience.  I speak and lecture publicly quite often, so I understand the importance of using effective terminology.

However, considering the fact that the student was writing a college level paper with an audience of a college English professor, the use of the word mankind should have been perfectly appropriate barring any sexual bias from the professor.  Clearly though, the professor is sexually biased.  A college English professor should be using their knowledge to teach people about the proper meaning of words, not to exaggerate and proliferate an incorrect use of the word.  A college English professor should be above the hype, not give into the hype.

By definition, the word “mankind” refers to all humans, both male and female.  If anyone refuses to acknowledge this, then they are truth deniers.  The only people who would have a problem with this word are people who are insecure with gender issues or who are ignorant of the correct definition of the word.  People who are secure with gender issues and are knowledgeable of the definition of the word do not struggle with this word.  So amusingly it is the people who fight to remove the use of mankind, those who are trying to be more gender sensitive, they are the ones who struggle with gender issues.

I am sure there are some people out there who would say to me, “Curtis, you just do not know the heart of the issue because you cannot relate to being a woman and having to label yourself under mankind.”  To that I reply with, “I can absolutely relate to having to label myself under a term that seems to have a gender discrepancy.”  How?  See below.

I am a Christian.  Do you know what one of the most common labels for Christians is?  The bride of Christ.  That is right, me, as a man, have to call myself the bride of Christ.  Do you see how emasculating that could be if I decided to get all tied up in that term?  Do you see how I could start a movement to relabel the traditional term so that men would not feel as feminized?

So why do I not get tied up in that term?  Because I understand the meaning of the word.  I understand that the word is not trying to emasculate anyone.  I understand that the word is meant to show the loving relationship that God has for His children.  (Ah, being called a child as a grown adult, yet another word I could get up in arms about … .)  I rise above the hype and land on truth.

There is nothing wrong with the phrase the bride of Christ to describe male believers in Christ.  The reason that there is nothing wrong with it is because it is not trying to project a gender identification onto anyone.  The same is true for the word mankind.  The word is not meant to project any gender identification.

So to those English professors who are insisting that mankind not be used to describe a group of people, I say stop betraying your profession.  Instead of exaggerating and proliferating the false concept that “mankind” is a sexist word, you ought to be rightly instructing your students that “mankind” is gender neutral.

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2 comments

  1. I think, in this instance, the fault was in using an outdated language form. One could, in a similar way argue that “negro” was the historical classification for those of African descent and it doesn’t have any racist implications to use it in a scholarly way; but today we have an alternative that ought to be used in order to be respectful.
    I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with fundamentalist Christian mindset. They say that because Adam, which means “man”, was used generically as the title for the human race, men have authority over women. They say that because Adam is the representation for the human race, and not Eve, then men have authority over women. Men are always first when speaking of men and women, unless one is saying “ladies and gentlemen.” Using “mankind” tends to create a default of “males” and otherizes “females”. Humankind is designed to be inclusive to put women and men on level ground.
    After all, idioms like; “no man is an island” could be better understood as “no one is an island”. But English grammar betrays us in that we have a tendency to refer to people and things as either masculine or feminine, while we do have “it”; it’s clunky and awkward to use. It’s only recently been permitted to use “they” as a singular third person gender-neutral: “If anyone has questions, they should ask them.” (as opposed to: “If anyone has questions, he or she should ask them.”
    Think of it as a toddler growing, learning the world around him anew. Of course there will be stumbling, but not everything old is right.

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    • Jamie,

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.

      I would agree with you that some people may use the term in a belittling way. However, it is they who are in the wrong, not the person who uses the term correctly.

      I would also not say that “mankind” is an outdated word. It is still used quite regularly. Also, that was not the professor’s reason for docking the student. The professor’s reason was because she thought the word to be sexist.

      If ignorance did not reign, negro would be an acceptable word to use when describing blacks. Many of the African-American civil rights leaders used the word. It is too bad ignorance has to reign. On a side note, it is amazing that negro would offend some when many blacks use a slightly abbreviated version of the truly offensive n-word to refer to themselves.

      Again, I believe that the only people who struggle with phrases like, “no man is an island”, are people who are insecure in gender issues. If people were to be educated enough and understand the intent, then no person would struggle with such phrases. I read articles now-a-days that purposefully insert “her” or “she” as the main pronoun when using a personal pronoun in an example (in fact, I have even done this myself). When I read these articles I do not suddenly feel left out and that the author is trying to speak of females as more dominant. I recognize that this is just a new way that people have decided to use general language.

      I agree that just because it is old that it should be used. However, just because it is old does not make it wrong either. Indeed, just because it is new does not mean it is right. In fact, sometimes the new idea is what is truly wrong, and the new idea that mankind is not gender neutral is factually wrong.

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