CBC: Should we use gender-neutral pronouns instead of ‘he’ and ‘she’?
CBC is asking the question, “Should we use gender-neutral pronouns instead of ‘he’ and ‘she’?” Citing Sweden’s addition of a gender-neutral pronoun to the National Encyclopedia and a news story last year about a Toronto couple who wished to raise their child genderless until the child decides, and asks:
Do you think language should be gender-neutral? Why or why not? Or, is this going to far in the quest for equality between genders? Does changing the language make a difference?
Speaking for myself, I’m not terribly oppressed by “she.” The only times I was ever close to being oppressed by “she” was before my transition, when people would use it to mock me, and try to undermine the masculinity that I tried to put on in order to avoid drawing attention to myself (obviously unsuccessfully).
But I’ve also known several people who do experience oppression by being forced into “he” or “she” or thrown into some worse (“it?!?“) box when the first two don’t adequately fit. I know some who use zie and hir, and a couple who prefer a singular they. That’s cool. I sometimes have a problem with remembering, but otherwise, I do my best to respect that. There’s a level of experience there that is beyond mine, and I recognize that I have privilege here, so I can afford to cede to and honor someone else’s wishes on this.
The question goes a little deeper, though. Are “he” and “she” part of a larger colonial hegemony that divides men and women in a most fundamental level of language in ways that we don’t recognize because we’re so used to thinking about them as “normal?” That’s a profound question, and I really don’t know the answer to it at this moment. It’s worth thinking about, and digging deeper.
For the moment, I’d be glad to see a widely-accepted gender-neutral pronoun in use, provided it doesn’t get forced on anybody. I’m still comfortable with “she” and probably wouldn’t use a gender-neutral alternative, unless that hegemonic question led to some unexpected epiphany. But I’m glad to see some recognition building that pronouns can oppress and do oppress at times… and questioning ways to change that.