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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Gender Neutral Pronouns

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Author Topic: Gender Neutral Pronouns
Djuna
Activist
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This is taken from a facebook group I have set up to encourage use of gender neutral words (I'll take down the link if it's not OK):

quote:

English as a language uses 'he' at times when it actually means 'he or she'. For instance, 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal'. Another good example are titles like 'chairman', which imply women are not welcome to apply for the job.

More seriously, our legislation (both in the UK and in most other countries, Canada being a notable exception) makes scores of references to the actions of 'him' and the punishment 'he' should face in law, with very few mentions for 'her' or even 'them'.

Furthermore, people who identify as a gender different to that which their biological sex would suggest often find pronouns attached to them which are incorrect. Wrongly referring to an MTF transexual as a 'he' is an example. Put simply, it's rude to start classifying someone as 'he' or 'she' if you don't know them well enough to ask which they prefer.

As an experiment, I am attempting to go a week using only gender neutral pronouns: I personally am using zhe (he or she), hir (him or her) and hirs (his or hers).

I would like to invite you all to join me in this effort - see how long you can go! You may find it easier to use they, them and their, or even one and one's. You are allowed to use 'he' or 'she' only with those people who have confirmed they are happy with them.

I could use some help editing that blurb, too: I'm did some research to write it, but I'm hardly an expert.

[ 06-12-2009, 10:56 AM: Message edited by: patrickvienna ]

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In a strange room, before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are filled with sleep you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not... how often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.

Posts: 1269 | From: London, UK | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Jill2000Plus
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I've tried using them before but I always have to repeatedly explain to everyone who just will not listen why I'm using them, what they mean and all while wondering why they're so difficult to learn when there are actually less than half the amount of words that are used if you insist on gendered pronouns. This friend of mine repeatedly said "they sound like German and a publisher won't accept them if you submit a piece with them in." At this point I wanted to curl up in bed and not talk to them until they left. First of all, it was a piece of fanfiction that I was quite happy to keep for me and those I know to read (and I've also written some sexually explicit fanfic that I really would rather not show to everyone), I have no interest in publishing it and second of all, has it never occurred to them that there are independent feminist, queer positive publishers who welcome the use of gender-neutral pronouns? Furthermore, yes they sound a bit like German, and y'know what else? There's this thing called a croissant that you may have eaten before, and shockingly, that word was originally (sit yourself down and get out your smelling salts) a French word!

Anyway, I'm going to start using gender neutral pronouns again, because anyone who can't be bothered to learn them is bound to infuriate me incessantly in conversation and is probably best avoided.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Ecofem
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[Jill, can I ask why you/your friend feel that gender neutral pronouns sound "German"? As a German speaker, words like "zhe" or "hir" don't sound like German to me. [Wink] That said, I'm glad you're going with that feels right to you in your writing. Friends can mean well but our advice to others can be more reflections of our own experiences than the person we mean to kindly help. [Smile] )
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IslaSingaza
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Ecofem, I'd assume it's because they sound quite a lot like sie and ihr.
I use 'they' when I don't know if people are 'he' or 'she'. 'They''s a brilliant word - it's useful and simple, in a way that inventing new ones that have to be explained isn't.

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Djuna
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Isla, 'they' doesn't always work for some expressions - for instance, 'Emily thinks that they want to ski' isn't grammatically correct, because the third person singular part of the verb (wants) should be used for Emily. However, if 'wants' was used, that would disagree with the third person plural pronoun 'they'.

In fact, a solution for this specific problem doesn't exist in English (if it does, I've framed the problem wrongly; there's definitely at least one instance for which there's no solution). For most uses, particularly as an impersonal pronoun in, for instance, legislative documents, 'they' is fine, and I'd applaud its use.

The reason words like 'xe' or 'zhe' exist is because in the sentence 'Emily thinks that zhe wants to ski', there is no pre-existing correct replacement for them other than 'he' or 'she'.

We stopped calling indigenous Americans 'Indians' years ago, because we were informed the correct term was 'Native American'. It's the same idea; the fact that most people haven't heard of the correct term doesn't mean its use should be curtailed.

[ 06-13-2009, 01:42 PM: Message edited by: patrickvienna ]

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In a strange room, before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are filled with sleep you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not... how often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.

Posts: 1269 | From: London, UK | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
orca
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quote:
We stopped calling indigenous Americans 'Indians' years ago, because we were informed the correct term was 'Native American'. It's the same idea; the fact that most people haven't heard of the correct term doesn't mean its use should be curtailed.
Actually, that's really going to depend on the person and what they prefer to be called. For instance, Sherman Alexie calls himself a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian. (In fact, some critics have said negative things about him for using the word "Indian" in his writings rather than "Native American.") Every person is going to prefer a different way of defining themselves, which is why I personally can't stand those group classifications because it takes away an individual's power to define themselves to the world and sticks them in some tidy category.

[ 06-13-2009, 03:48 PM: Message edited by: orca ]

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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