Nouns of address

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DAVID Stockman should leave it to Maurice Chevalier to sing ``Thank heaven for little girls.'' When the legendary French entertainer vocalized it back in the 1950s, he was referring to female children. Perhaps Mr. Stockman's mother, who recently took him to task for other comments, has already pointed out that female adults should be referred to as women. In a Senate subcommittee appearance this week Mr. Stockman ought to have described a staff aide, while expressing appreciation for her work, as a woman, not as a ``little girl.''

The problem in terminology is not limited to the unfortunate Stockman. Too many Americans, including some women, do the same.

Issues of substance arise over gender and work: comparative pay, training, experience, promotion, and often even appreciation. Improving terms of reference won't of itself resolve these issues. But it is a prerequisite for addressing them.

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Ultimately, gender should cease to be a point of reference. Work being done is not aware of the gender of the doer.

Attitudes, and the terms of reference that reveal them, can be far too slow to change. But Americans can, at least, keep the rhetoric -- the most easily addressed aspect -- on a correct course. ----30--{et

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