Gender Inclusive Language

This falls into the “tidbits from my notebook” category:

“Our most important stories are silent, woven into the fabric of our language. (This is not a novel idea. There are no novel ideas, but paradoxically, each particular combination is unique.) “Everybody knows that ‘he’ includes women,” is only even available as a thought because somebody noticed it, and questioned it. Language evolves, and as it does so, the use of the words themselves constitute narrative. The fact that we hold fast to that idea indicates that at a very fundamental level, we care more about our grammar than [we care about] our daughters.”

(To this I will add that while I was in science and engineering, I tended to accept the idea “Everybody knows that ‘he’ includes women.” The day I learned to question that was at a meeting of scientists in which we were talking about the future executive of the organization, and the hypothetical president. I was the only woman in the room, and the conversation went, “Well, he would have to …” for some time, until one of the younger men said, “He or she would…” and I realized that I never, in fact, pictured a woman, not even myself, when confronted with that construction.)

7 responses to “Gender Inclusive Language”

  1. Now that I think about it, I realize that I’ve been using “they” and “them” as a singular, non-gendered pronoun for years, and I hadn’t even noticed.

    • I believe it is generally considered acceptable in the circles we run in, even if it is not technically correct. It is a noted gap in the English language.

      • Agreed.

        Language evolves, but not always quickly. And I find the forced attempts like zie and zir jarring when I read them….

      • The constructed solutions rarely stick except in specific subcultures. I would be surprised to find ‘zie’ and ‘zir’ incorporated into mainstream English in my lifetime, although I have used both of them in conversation and writing. They can be useful in particular situations, though, and I try not to actively fight them, especially since I have reason and opportunity to participate in some deeply radical conversations. I think that the key is that the evolution is a driven process, but it can’t be controlled. (So, for a less controversial example, I’d better get used to the word, “irregardless,” regardless of the fact that it makes me gnash my teeth.)

      • I have wondered what, really, is wrong with ‘one’ for these situations.

        It’s singular, it’s non-gendered, and it isn’t a made-up word.

        I suppose it has a 19th-century British flavour to it, and therefore might be considered non-inclusive language, but I think that zie and zir are at least equally exclusive in that their use assumes a knowledge of their meaning which is far less likely than the knowledge of the meaning of one.

  2. I recently read a book by Dr. Gabor Mate who used the term she to represent both genders. I appreciated the inversion of gender use.

    • I’ve also seen that done. It is disruptive, and as such points out the unspoken assumptions of our culture. (grins broadly) (that’s from ethnomethodology! ;p)

      I’ll be talking culture soon… and probably about Virginia Woolf, although maybe not in the same post.