Thursday, July 7, 2016

Gender Inclusive Pronouns


 Back in the mid 20th Century the feminist movement tried with some success to ban the generic use of "men" and "man" as in "All men are created equal." In current vernacular they have succeeded quite well. In some Churches led by UUs they even succeeded in removing male references to God in large part by eliminating the pronoun altogether, resulting in some rather weird hymnody with repetitive use of God and some strangled syntax to eliminate references directly to God.

 I was frequently involved in God discussions at that time and found the effort of avoiding the Pronouns for God too much effort and found the shock of using Hesh and Herm in reference to God a useful result in my discussions. Typically it generated the assertion that God was male and that the proper pronouns were He and His. This generally derailed the discussion into a useful discussion of God's testosterone levels. 

 One of the first things that offended me when I found out that other people who believed in God believed that God was The Lord (masculine) and He/His were interchangeable with God.  I was still in the scatological humor stage at the time and gleefully referred to God as Sheheit.  Making myself unpopular in some circles, but most of my friends were at the most religious agnostics, so I didn't catch much flack.   And when I did I would always correct myself to Hesheit.  I outgrew the scatology but still refused to even think of God as He.

 When I came to social media I continued the practice and for a long time linked on the words to a discussion on the Gender and Sexuality boards. When I began to see "hesh" and "hir" or "herm" in the popular literature without explanation, (I admit to noticing each time) I quit linking particularly on atheist and the UU boards as everyone could figure out what I meant without the link from context although fundamentalist Christians and language conservatives continue to protest its use in reference to God.

  I also eliminated the gender specific pronouns from my vocabulary as a general pronoun and use "hesh" and "herm" as my pronouns of choice whether the gender of the referent is known or not. This is particularly useful in calling attention to gender specific terms like "Actor," Waitress," or "Chairman." Traditionalists be damned. They need their consciousness raised. If it jars their reading or hearing of the term, they still need the consciousness raising.


 More recently I have been using the terms when the referent is of known gender but the gender is not relevant in context. Reference to the author of a scientific paper was beat into my head by my then wife whose papers in a male chauvinist academic profession were referred to as "HER" papers as if they were therefore less important than "his" papers. They in fact were less important than "his" papers, even though in general they were significantly better. It is no accident that women in science generally publish with initials only. If men are offended by having to think about gender specific nouns, too bad. They need to. Particularly the sexist males. They can be sure I intended to insult them with the gender inclusive pronoun.

 As for the ESL issue, some languages particularly Asian languages are non-sexist in that the pronouns are non-specific. I live with Asians and have become used to hearing "she" and "her" being used as a pronoun for anybody. I don't bother to correct them as they are on my side. I suspect Asians would have more trouble with "he" and "she" in writing and speech than they would be with "hesh" and "herm."

 Other languages are inherently sexist. I was at the installation of a new department head who couldn't even introduce his staff because his native language didn't have a word for a female colleague. He did all right with the men, but the female who outranked the men caused an embarrassing for all search for an appropriate honorific.

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