Saturday, April 16, 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.

When I came to beliefnet I continued the practice and for a long time linked on the words to a discussion on the old 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 this 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 they are offended by having to think about gender, 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 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.

Humanism in the Real World

A humanist treats all people as individuals with the dignity and respect they have earned as a human being regardless of any group they may have been born into, chosen, or indoctrinated into at some point in their lives.  A humanist recognizes that humans come with a lot of baggage some of which may not be functional in a modern society, but a humanist recognizes that it is what the individual has unpacked from that baggage which is important, not the baggage itself.  Many men and women from religious and social indoctrination carry a heavy load of baggage of xenophobia, paternalism and misogyny, but to the extent that they have or have not left some of it behind, the humanist will accord respect for the human accordingly.

A major misconception about humanism is that humanists are incapable of judging other humans and treat all humans equally.  As a first assumption this should be true, but from Tom Lehrer's intro to National Brotherhood Week
I am sure we all agree we ought to love one another, and I know that there are people that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that.
The real skill in humanism is using behavioral cues rather than assumptions about the baggage that the person appears to be carrying in deciding how to deal with the encounter.  This is not to say that awareness of the baggage is unimportant in interpreting behavioral cues, but it is the cue properly interpreted rather than the baggage that should dictate the human response.

In dealing with a member of a discriminated against class the humanist is sensitive to and tries to defuse any justified resentment, but accepts it as a reasonable reaction and tries to find human commonalities to build a humanistic relationship on.  Always with the recognition that triggers exist, and can be inadvertently used.  Accepting responsibility for not avoiding triggers is an important part of defusing them.   As an example if I am caught holding a door for a feminist, and she objects that she can do it herself* I simply apologize for being in her way.  I have stimulated conversations with more than one feminist non-acquaintance that way.

A note on the current bigoted trend of "Color Blindness."  A humanist celebrates the diversity of coloration, face and eye shape, and the cultural traditions associated with that diversity in the human race.  Their history is our history and no group has a lock on superiority in anything.  Humans are "tribal" animals and we naturally gravitate to the lore and traditions of our tribe but doing so by ignoring or denigrating the lore and traditions of the other tribes' leads only to hate and bigotry.  

Members of an identifiable group must also be aware of the baggage that they carry as a member of the group, even though they have done their best to unpack and discard the worst of it.  As an example I am a member of the white, male, privileged, MBA, financially secure group.  In other words the assholes that run the businesses that run the government and oppress the working class and the disadvantaged.  I have diligently tried to avoid the social disabilities that come with the class of privileged white males.
  • Sexism/misogyny. 
  • Patriarchal assumptions. 
  • Being a winner rather than a loser. 
  • Refusing to cooperate or collaborate as an equal.
  • Rejection of active parenting. That is marrying a woman to do the job and accepting the costs of child support as freedom to change my mind. Or simply fucking someone to "carry a seed" and not really caring about whether that seed grows properly or not as long as it is born.
  • Using material success as a measure of worth. "He* who dies with the most toys wins." 
  • Hiring, bribing, or intimidating others to cover one's ass in all of the above.  

Unpacking religious and social baggage is a difficult and frequently impossible human task.  Castigating all those who have not done so because of their baggage is neither functional nor humanistic.  Those who have managed to unpack and leave behind some of the more dysfunctional bags need all the respect and help from others they can get, and not be thrown under the baggage bus.  For those on the bus education and ostracism are about the only options for a rational humanist, but these options are generational in impact, and those individuals on the bus that have unpacked a bit are critical to the education role, and deserve all the dignity and respect they can find if they manage to leave the bus even for a short holiday.

As humans are tribal animals tribal religious baggage is the most difficult for a humanist to deal with.  Telling Malala or any Muslim expatriate that she must lose the hijab if she is to be credible as a feminist is one of most dysfunctional tactics I have run into recently.  It certainly is a powerful statement of the misogyny of Muslim men, but until you change the men, we are talking generations here; the hijab is a rational response to that misogyny.  Incidentally fundamentalist Christian and Jewish men are just as misogynist, but society has made more progress in changing their behavior which is the first step in changing their thinking.  It is the men who must change the men to enable the women to feel more comfortable with relaxing the dress codes.

I have always selected female professionals when available when I had a choice, using the assumption that a female had to be twice as good as the average man to even have a chance in any professional role.  That is based on the reality that the average man who is successful in a professional position may be far to the left on the competence curve and still be able to compete in a paternalistic society.  Sorry, men, half of you are from the bottom half of your class.  Even in professional schools where women face discrimination even today.  Factoring in the discriminatory entrance barriers it is easy to believe that more than half the men end up in the bottom half of the class.  The few women who graduate are generally near the top as they have the Mrs. to fall back on if the going is too tough.  Men are always suckers for intelligent, competent women and the sex bait is difficult to resist, even if a Mrs. is the hook.

Humanism is a fundamental change in internal attitude that may or may not be accomplished in even a single lifetime.  It is simply a constant struggle to avoid categorization.  A personal anecdote may be illustrative.  When I have the choice I select among women medical professionals for care.  Nonetheless I have always been aware of the fact that they were female, and the stray mating dance thoughts always had to be repressed.  Especially if they were attractive in the gender sense.  Perhaps it is simply age, but I realized after a recent routine physical that I had finally made it over the gender hurdle and the doctor was just that: a professional doing herm job competently.  It wasn't that I didn't know she was female, I chose her for that reason, and it turned out that she was attractive, but after the first visit, hesh was "just" a competent doctor, and I was paying attention only to that as hesh was still in the evaluation stage of choice as a PCP. 

*Gender reference intentional.