Today I was typing up another blog post and had to use him/her as a gender neutral pronoun reference. This is something that’s always bugged me as it’s awkward to write and awkward to read. “They” is not a suitable alternative because it’s plural and therefore grammatically incorrect in a singular context.
That got me thinking: why do we have gendered pronouns at all? After reading the recent post “It’s OK to be Neither” I’m wondering if there could be a positive cultural impact from completely eliminating gendered pronouns from language. I’m not proposing what we should standardize on, but if the English language didn’t have gendered pronouns, it would:
- Solve the annoying he/she him/her pronoun problem.
- Make the language non-deterministic for those who believe that gender is a spectrum.
- Remove a subtle but foundational part of our language that encourages gender as a vitally important differentiator.
I’m not generally an alarmist when it comes to vocabulary. I think that words only have power when we allow them to. That being said, it would be interesting to see the landscape of our society if this change were implemented.
- Would it make the issue of the marriage of same-sex couples seem less “different” from the norm?
- Would workplace and friend networks be more likely to cross gender lines?
- Would children raised without gendered pronouns be more likely not to discriminate based on gender?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions, I just think it’s an interesting topic to ponder. All of this being said, gender differences are a part of our lives and in many ways can and should be celebrated. But referential tags can be troublesome and this is one that’s literally baked into the language. Maybe it shoudn’t be…what do you think?