Kansas State University is embroiled in controversy over its longstanding slogan, "Every Man A Wildcat" (abbreviated EMAW). Some students want to change the line to "Every Person A Wildcat" — and traditionalists aren't happy.
Back in 2009, then-student Beth Mendenhall wrote an editorial in the Kansas State Collegian arguing that "'Every Man a Wildcat' is frequently used as an expression of school pride, but its sexist undertones make it an inadequate and counterproductive reflection of how much we and our university rock. It's my contention that 'Every Person a Wildcat' would be a better slogan." She explained*,
This type of linguistic sexism matters, because it perpetuates the invisible, widely-accepted notion that "man" (as in "mankind"), encompasses both men and women. This is the Adam and Eve notion of sex and gender –- women are a derivative of men, just a rib. All the concrete examples of institutional sexism (workplace discrimination, decades without suffrage, etc.) were justified implicitly or explicitly by this mindset. Language is a reflection of reality –- we describe things the way we think they are, and we act based on these assumptions. If "Every Man a Wildcat" is supposed to mean every K-State student, why would we choose a gendered term when we could easily be gender-neutral?
After the column was published, Mendenhall says "everyone freaked out." And argument continues. At Saturday's football game against Kent State, the marching band didn't do their tradition EMAW formation. Band director Frank Tracz told the Collegian,
I was asked not to do (the formation). It was my decision to pull it. It was in the best interest to pull it. There are some people, I'm not sure if the right word is ‘offended' or ‘upset', or just don't like what ‘EMAW' stands for, but I just didn't want to create controversy.
Too late. A viral campaign has sprung up, with a Facebook page and Twitter account. #SaveEMAW is trending on Twitter, with tweets like "I find EPAW offensive and the argument to use instead of the proper (and inclusive) EMAW is infuriating" and "I hate Beth Mendenhall." Another EMAW supporter wrote, "Being PC, we'll be living in PERSONhattan soon. No offense to those wearing a 'hat' or 'tan'" (Kansas State is in Manhattan, KS). Shirts reading #SaveEMAW are also available. A spokesperson (man?) from the campaign explained their position to me thus:
EMAW or Every Man A Wildcat is all inclusive. Man in this case refers to Mankind. Also if you look at the general definition of man it means a human of either sex; person. I honestly don't find this phrase to be sexist at all. You can find almost anything to be racist, sexist, or anything else in that manner. People just need to relax and not get there panties in a bunch over a simple word.
What seems inclusive to some can feel profoundly exclusive to others, and the SaveEMAW campaign doesn't appear to have taken Mendenhall's arguments about linguistic sexism very seriously. Nor is "people just need to relax" a particularly effective argument coming from what appears to be a group of very emotionally invested students. If anything, #SaveEMAW shows how important traditions are and how difficult it is to "relax" about them, whether you're trying to defend or change them. On the plus side, one Tim Fitzgerald injects some humor into what's quickly becoming a bitter debate:
On Saturday, one of the EPAW supporters called my support of EMAW sexist. I fought back by making my wife a sandwich on Sunday.
As far as "I'm not sexist" defenses go, this is a pretty good one.
Update: According to a tipster, Fitzgerald also manages the website gopowercat.com, where he made some significantly less amusing comments.
* Excerpted from an unpublished version of the column provided by Mendenhall. Published version is no longer online, and may differ slightly.
"Save EMAW" Goes Viral [Kansas State Collegian]