Just when is a “gender-neutral term” gender-neutral? The answer, I submit, is rarely simple.
It is often said that Mensch is “gender-neutral”- in German, or as used in English in particular ethnolinguistic environments. Clearly, it sometimes is. Just as clearly, it sometimes isn’t. Even when every effort is made to use it in a gender-neutral way, it often isn’t. Context activates its latent male-genderedness. Watch this delightful cartoon if you don’t believe me. The distribution of the terms “Mensch” and “girl” is telling.
All I know for sure is this. The one and only time a very smart, well-traveled young woman called me “a real Mensch” to my face was when I was 20 years old, all curls and muscle. The attributive language amounted to a very gendered come-on. Even and perhaps precisely because she knew that adam = anthropos = homo = Mensch.
This post concludes the following series: