Pronoun Games

 

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It isn’t possible to have a full discussion of the biases that we keep without talking about the non-binary gendered and a little linguistic problem that allows the rest of us to dehumanize them in conversation. This is the fact that they have no singular pronoun and many people simply use “it”. Using “it” to describe a person is simply not acceptable. I learned just how important language can be for these issues when I was very young and saw a controversy happen with my favorite tv show. Yes, I’m a nerd and geek. I used to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation when the third wave feminists decided that the language was not acceptable and must be changed in order to stop promoting sexist ideals. Or something like that. I just really remember being irritated at the time because I didn’t get it.

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” As a race, we are still referred to as “man,” and perhaps “human” would have been a better literal change but adding the syllable probably would have caused scoring problems.

“To boldly go where no one has gone before.” As if the show was about discovering places that weren’t inhabited. The people that live there were there before. We were no longer identifying the progress of the human race, we were identifying the exploration and travel of all races. Why would we do that?

I realize that this is coming from the privileged perspective of a cis-woman who has never had her gender questioned. The point is that, if the language was so important to feminists of the time, why are we not having a larger conversation about pronouns and other non-binary gendered terms now? The language doesn’t stop bigotry, prejudice or any of the other ignorant things that people do. What it does, though, is  limit the ability of people to dehumanize other genders. There has been discussion of the new pronouns to use, but none have gotten any recognition outside of the communities that are looking for it. None have made it into the Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary or Dictionary.com.

Here are some articles discussing the issue. Personally, I vote for ze and hir.

http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun
http://web.mit.edu/trans/GenderNeutralPronouns.pdf
http://gender.wikia.com/wiki/Agender
http://nonbinary.org/wiki/Pronouns
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116331/gender-neutral-pronouns-will-we-ever-replace-she-and-he

Here is a TEDtalk that highlights some of the problems that the non-binary gendered face and one person’s ability to help them:  https://www.ted.com/talks/norman_spack_how_i_help_transgender_teens_become_who_they_want_to_be

Here are some statistics on why this is a bigger problem than people realize

http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/28/local/la-me-ln-suicide-attempts-alarming-transgender-20140127
http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/01/28/trans_suicide_we_aren_t_stopping_the_epidemic.html

Again, I don’t think that giving them a singular pronoun will solve all their problems and make the staggering suicide rate plummet. However, I do think that not using language to dehumanize a sect of our population could be the first step to eliminating the widespread bias against them. It’ll also help us to talk about bringing up their gender equality, as is my goal for all people.

Find me on Twitter at @createparity and at Create Parity on Pinterest for more about gender issues!

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4 thoughts on “Pronoun Games

  1. Language is very important. Words and word choices have a great deal of context associated with them. I personally think we should look at history and the history of language before trying to fabricate new words from nothing.

    “Man” is not a gendered noun. It is a non-gendered noun that has become associated with males because we have no other word to refer to males. We have woman and non-gendered person. In Old English we had words for male-human female-human and just human. Wereman, Wifman and Man. Returning wereman to use and de-gendering man is the way to go. If we again make a non-gendered word, we will again loose the word for male and the new word will come to mean male. The solution is not to repeat the cycle, but to end it.

    • Language evolves through common understanding and usage. “Man” has come to mean an adult human male in addition to a person of the human race. It is commonly accepted and used that way. A reversal of usage of the word “man” would still not create a non-gendered pronoun, which is what we lack. “He” is still gendered to all male forms of all creature and not to the word “man” in it’s neutral form. Whether it be used with “man” in its neutral form or with the many other non-binary gendered people out there, there still needs to be a pronoun that is gender neutral. While “he” was used in the distant past as a default pronoun in cases where gender was not a factor, that was during a time before it was accepted that language was a part of the problem with gender relations. “Ze” is already in usage in LGBTQ communities and some others, which makes it the easiest candidate to be accepted.

      • Returning to wereman was only half of the point I wanted to make.

        The bigger point was that creating a non-gendered pronoun will create the wereman -> man problem all over again. If “Ze” becomes common then “He” will simply disappear and “Ze” will be by default masculine. If we want a non-gendered word we can’t make a new non-gendered word because that word will quickly replace the male-gendered word.

        • I hope not, but this particular idea hasn’t been tried in English yet. Not to mention, it would be great to not write “he or she” or any of it’s derivatives anymore. I suppose we’ll see.

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