Monday, August 31, 2015
Pronouns Gone Wild!
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about gender neutral writing. Here I am, writing about it again. Here's why...
Those Crazy College Kids!
By crazy college kids, I mean overzealous college educators and administrators. I was listening to talk radio this morning. To be honest with you, I was only half listening at first because I was also reading a book. I don't remember the college, and for the point I'm about to make the college name doesn't matter. Anyway, some of the people there have decided that everyone should stop using common gender pronouns (he, his, her, she). Instead, people should use ze and zir to become gender inclusive.
That argument was so stupid that it made me put my book down and squint at the radio. Really? That doesn't solve anything. That doesn't make anything more inclusive. If this were adopted, you would just be substituting the male and female pronouns with other "pronouns" that perform the exact same thing: refer to the gender of a person. So, tell me. How in the hell does that solve the gender pronoun issue? It doesn't. It just recolors the problem and momentarily distracts you while making you feel like you've done something good. It would be like me telling you that my dog isn't a dog. It's a chien. By the way, that's French for dog. Ze and zir would simply be used to replace the current gendered pronouns. So, you'd still have gendered pronouns...they'd just look and sound different and give you something to bitch about later.
Pronouns Aren't Bad - They're Just Written That Way
Pronouns are a lot like Jessica Rabbit. They're not bad. People think they're bad because of how they're used. When I took my first legal research and writing class back around ten years ago, the textbooks had recently changed to discourage gendered writing because it is archaic. Wow - imagine that. The world's most conservative professional field (law) began to look at how pronouns were used as potentially archaic.
If you don't blame a spoon for making someone overweight, then you can't blame the pronoun. It is a tool of people. People are the ones ultimately responsible for their bodies and their words. So, let's look at how you should properly institute gender neutral writing (and yes, I know that there will be some grammar purists that will want to find me and shake the pencil lead out of my ears).
You should only use he, she, his, her, and other versions of our favorite gendered pronouns if you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are, in fact, dealing with the specific appropriate gender. If you don't know the gender, then you do not use those pronouns. It's just as easy to use they, them, their, etc., as it is to make assumptions. It's also less offensive.
If you know someone who is biologically born a man and they openly identify as a woman, then you may refer to them in writing with female pronouns. If you know someone who is biologically born a woman and they openly identify as a man, then you may refer to them in writing with male pronouns. If someone identifies as gender fluid, cis gender, or even androgynous, it is up to you, the writer, to ask how they would prefer to be addressed. When in doubt, just ask.
As a professional, if you see the use of Mr., Ms., or Mrs., in a file, then it is safe to use the appropriate gendered pronoun. If you have no indication of gender, then you either need to ask or use something gender neutral (they, them, their, etc.).
We Don't Need New Words - We Need Better and More Responsible Writers
It's true. We really don't need new words (especially when they confirm about English what the world already knows: that our difficult to learn language beats the shit out of other languages and then steals their words while they're bleeding on the curb). Let's face it, we aren't doing such a great job making up our own. Awesome sauce is now a word in the dictionary. Just let that sink in for a minute.
What we need in this world are writers that truly care about the craft of writing. We need writers that understand the proper way to choose and use words for their written pieces. We need writers that take the time to learn something before they vomit pointless opinions onto the Internet and into print media for all to read. I'm a professional writer and editor. That's why I can say that. Far too often, I see writers of all experience levels making mistakes with word choice that just shouldn't happen. Native English speaking writers are the worst about not bothering to take the time to find out how what they will say will affect others. That's really sad because that's the key that will make or break your career.
So, if you're a writer, whether professional or casual, you must learn how to properly categorize the person or people that you are writing about in your work. You must take the time to keep up not just with trends, but with appropriate measures that are professional and timely that will enhance your work and make your publications more valuable. You don't....we don't...need more words (from other languages that do the exact same thing, but sound trendy). We need to use the words that we have in a more responsible manner.