“Any woman with their own opinion resembles an American.”

This is in honor of Michigan’s State Representative Lisa Brown, and as a warning to the Michigan government and all others who consider women, or treat them as, second-class citizens or second-class anythings, or just want to shut them up. In honor of Susan B. Anthony, too, who on November 18, 1872,  was arrested for trying to vote in the Presidential election, and refused to pay the fine.

The thought is in honor of them, anyway, even if the sentence is hard going.

My student was writing about Fanny Fern, 19th-century American satirist, who was very much in favor of women’s speaking their minds.

We’ll try to set aside the number agreement between “woman” and “their.” I continue to fight this battle—particularly here: why choose the plural when the gender is perfectly clear and therefore the singular “her” would be both grammatical and logical? But like so many things in contemporary culture, an easy pandering to a concept is winning out over an effort at precise thought. The example here is particularly ironic, since my student actually knows how to spell the singular, WOMAN, rather than using “womEn” for one, two, or any number. It’s true that one determined woman can wield the force of thousands, but most of us can still count, and I can certainly tell the difference between one woman and a dozen even though an eye injury has left me with double vision.

I digress. This student chose “woman,” which goes with the verb. I suppose she could have written “Any women with their own…,” but then I’d quibble with the singular “opinion” and certainly protest the singular verb. I’d far prefer to leave the numbers as they (mostly rightly) are and scream about “their.”

And now of course we come to the verb. I can’t understand where “resembles” comes from. Does she mean that women aren’t actually Americans but when they have opinions of their own they are reasonable facsimiles? or that any woman, no matter where in the world, is like an American if she has her own opinion? or that Americans have their own opinions, and women with opinions are like that? Would men with opinions resemble Americans too, or are they the default mode?

Well, if she walks like an American and talks like an American (which would presumably mean having an opinion), she must be an American, quack-quack.

How might my student have expressed this thought without putting me in stitches? I think she’d have to think through her idea before committing herself to her sentence. A lot of students don’t: they hate to back up. She starts off “Any woman…” and is stuck. Clarifies it with “with their own opinion.” Well, what? Hurry up and finish! Can’t say “is an American,” because plenty of Americans don’t seem to have opinions, witness all those polls with the “no opinion” response in double digits. So what verb would work? There, alas, is the rub: no verb would work. “Seems to be”? “Is being”? “Is acting like”? “Must be”? “Is exercising the rights of”? Faced with that dilemma, she had nowhere to turn, and “resembles” is no farther from what she meant than any of the other choices.

Had I been writing the sentence, I probably would have begun back there with the Bill of Rights: “Freedom of speech, hence freedom of thought, is guaranteed to all Americans, and that includes women.” I really think my student wanted to say something like that.

And so do I. Hear that, Michigan?

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““Any woman with their own opinion resembles an American.”

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