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What's up with the pronouns?

neoan on November 12, 2019

Recently I noticed the trend of adding pronouns to profiles. Jane Doe (she/her) While I understand that this is a political statement supporting ... [Read Full]
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this is a political statement

I disagree.

supporting transgendered people.

Yes, but it's really about inclusivity. People at work do not need their gender to be a thing, at all, but our language has it built-in and removing ambiguity about how people prefer to be referred to is a respectful way to do so and get on with our jobs.

You may not be able to tell at a glance how someone would prefer to be called, even if for most people you can. Wouldn't you still want to just be able to get it right for everyone? It might not be a prescient social problem for your daily life, but I'm sure it's a relief for some people.

 

Furthermore, and this doesn't get discussed much, it's a practical way for everyone to avoid being misgendered on the internet. Saying one's pronouns is a normalization of gender fluidity, but it's got this added benefit.

If you read through Reddit, you'll see almost everyone referring to other people in the threads as "he", with occasional "they" or context-dependent "she". As we seek the right way to co-exist on the internet across cultures and with changing norms, simple wins like this go a long way.

 

Ben, the main reason I joined Dev.to was because it was obviously designed to be inclusive of people like myself. Just wanted to say thanks for your allyship in helping create this space.

In that case: would you mind giving your thoughts on this?

 

Furthermore, and this doesn't get discussed much, it's a practical way for everyone to avoid being misgendered on the internet.

It does make sense that it would avoid that issue but upon reading this a question popped into my head.

Why is that even an issue in the first place? Why does being misgendered on the internet matter?

 

Well, there is a lot of international folk on Reddit. Most languages gender nouns. As a result and depending on the country, you can often see that come into effect on a level that is easily misinterpreted by native speakers. For example, "OP said he wants links" makes perfect sense for a German, regardless of what gender the original poster has as OP itself would carry a gender.
And on the other end of the spectrum: Being able to use a language well enables you to avoid gendered expressions all together.
However, I do get your point and I see how that would make many situations easier. But I simply have a different stance on it: It depends on where in the internet I am. Sometimes I want to have a username and share nothing - not even my gender. Anonymity is the core of the web, labels a threat to that notion.

 

Thank you for your reply. Maybe I should clarify: I say "political" as I am specifically referring to people with traditional gender identity, not people who are commonly mislabeled and therefore decided to publicly reiterate their preferred pronouns.
This means that I am also not talking about people I might unintentionally misgender and would therefore seek clarity. Here, I am specifically referring to people who do this in support of people who might feel singled out if they were the only ones having the need to clarify how to refer to them. In this context, it is political, is it not? I mean, if I see a profile picture of a person clearly identifying as a woman with a clearly female first name, the addition (she/her) doesn't really provide any purpose unless it is outside of the realm of the expectation (e.g. Jane Doe (they/their) )

Wouldn't you still want to just be able to get it right for everyone?

Sure! And if people chose to state their preferred way of being addressed that way, I see no issue with that. Likewise I would respect it if people did not want to share it like that. The whole problem is usually contained to introductions / first meetings anyway, unless there is a discrimination problem, in which case none of these methods will help.

So yes, I agree: It boils down to inclusivity. The actual question is (and I hope people affected join this conversation), "does it make it easier for non binary individuals to state their preferred pronouns if everybody does it"? If so, why? And should this become mandatory or "highly suggested" by companies, will it still have that effect? See, ironically, as soon as identity politics reflect legally, any intention of the original idea are usually useless. In a world where it is mandatory to disclose your pronouns, you will not generate any feeling of inclusivity. It will be harder to tell where people are truly understanding and where people are following the law. As stated before, we see this effect with other forms of discrimination. For example, racists have adapted pretty well to legal requirements. I could tell you a story about how long it took me to find out that a particular employer I worked for was someone I do not want to make business with; but that would takes us too far off topic.

Anyway, I assume by saying

[...] and removing ambiguity about how people prefer to be referred to is a respectful way to do so and get on with our jobs

you suggest that if everybody simply included their pronouns it would normalize identity effectively? Let's assume you are right: what is the solution for regular encounters (e.g. at a coffee shop)? Wearing name tags or t-shirts with our pronouns?

See, we are developers: there must be a better solution. If you look at the Thai language, for instance, you find yourself having a grammatical difference depending on who speaks, not who you speak to. So the way you say "hello" carries your gender. This is obviously a way better approach and might be one of the causes gender is a way easier topic in that country in general.

 

I feel some of this is already well-addressed by some of the other responses you've received. I do not agree with your insistence that there's anything wrong here, and it's not political because it's not there to signal value. It's genuinely there to normalize the practice. I suppose it's disingenuous to say it's about showing support, the point is that inequality is built in to our institutions as fundamental as language and it takes active work to chip away at that for those on the short end of the stick. That's not me, I'm a cis white male, but I don't see this as even a little bit if a loss or a burden on my end, and even if I did it'd be worthwhile.

I don't feel the need to broadcast anything about myself or my gender when I enter a coffee shop, I don't have any sort of profile there. It doesn't really come up in an interaction either. It makes sense on a social media profile, as a point of information that makes up my profile, but I similarly do not include it with every comment and article.

I don't see many cons, and lots of pros.

I feel like I am either unable to make my point or am not heard:

I don't see anything wrong with stating your pronouns in such a way. I even agree with the gist of what you are saying:

the point is that inequality is built in to our institutions as fundamental as language and it takes active work to chip away at that for those on the short end of the stick

I am just questioning whether or not this is a good approach as it is certainly not a universal solution. It does not address core issues and it does not solve for anything outside of online communication. BUT, maybe it helps. That's what I am here to find out.

You've got a bunch of folks telling you here that it does indeed.

Indeed. Lot's of feedback. Was hoping for some non binary perspective as well, though.

 

The big reason for stating pronouns is to normalize it. It makes it harder to single someone out because they have pronouns listed if lots of people list their pronouns.

As for where does it stop? When it starts costing something to make a change, then we should really ask if the change is worth it. Referring to someone how they like to be referred to as "he", "she" or "they" is free. Individuals wanting a unique to them title is not, so is it worth it? Will it really make that person happy?

It's the same as using "guys" to refer to a team. Changing your language is free. And even if there are only men on the team, it doesn't mean all of them like being called a guy. It's free to change your language and can make other people feel welcomed and included.

On collecting diversity information:
You can't measure diversity if you don't capture that information. And I agree, we shouldn't need to be capturing that information. But we don't live in a perfect world. Achieving and maintaining diversity takes a conscious effort. I suggest looking into "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" for how a lack of diversity can occur, even when no one wants it to.

 

I think you formulate what seems to be the general opinion well. The normalization is surely the strongest argument and you might be right in forecasting that effect.

I think the border being defined as whether or not something is free is a difficult marker and should not be considered as a measurement. I am sure you can think of countless examples where inclusion requires some form of investment and yet we would agree that it needs to be ensured.

On the topic of diversity information:
How many people in your company have Irish background? And where is that tracked?
While some ginger-jokes persist, we have outgrown a particular resentment that was historically quite strong a while ago. But I think it is fair to say that the Irish do not suffer from any discrimination anymore. How was this achieved? Did we track segregation/diversity? Did we create laws?
The civil rights movement transformed the majority believe almost half a century ago. Since then, we are trying to get over a problem that we should have overcome decades ago. And I look at numbers, I look at the news, I talk to people and can not come to any other conclusion than that we still have a problem with racism in this society, even though the vast majority agrees that we shouldn't. Yes, there are socio-psychological mechanisms that "auto-segregate" among many other mechanisms and effects. But we simply have to start by acknowledging:

Collecting diversity information did not work. Establishing quotas did not work. It's not that we are missing the data and have to rely on models. We have tried it, and it failed. It does not help to run the compiler again :-)

 

If it's free is the simplest test for something. If it's free for you to address someone with the pronouns they prefer, why wouldn't you? If it's free to address a group as "team" instead of "guys" and makes someone feel more included, why wouldn't you?

How many people in your company have Irish background?
0

And where is that tracked?
Nowhere. I'm unemployed.

Jokes aside, there are two very distinct things that need to happen for diversity information that is collected to be useful. First, it needs to be collected. Second, people actually need to look at it and make meaningful changes to try and change it. Just because some organizations collect this information and don't use it, doesn't mean that it isn't useful at other orgs and hasn't been used to make change. I know I've used information like that to drive change in initiative's I've worked on.

If it's free for you to address someone with the pronouns they prefer, why wouldn't you?

This is not the discussion we are having here. Of course I would. I am saying that I disagree with anything being free being a good test. And that goes both ways. Should an employer guarantee that there is an opportunity for breastfeeding mothers? Yes. But what if that means that he has to invest to ensure privacy? Still yes. How about singing the national anthem each morning? No, thank you. But it's free! Still decline.

As for the "guys":
I ignored that the first time as I get your point, but think the example is weak. This particular term went from being very declarative to a more or less genderless use within my lifetime. That might be something regional, but here all types of groups regardless of consistency are referred to as guys without anybody taking an issue with it. On a general basis I agree, though: use the language everyone feels comfortable with if possible.

As for the data collection:
I have very strong doubts regarding that. In my mind, labels always produce exclusion. As long as the same news outlets show concerned faces when a cop apparently targeted a minority member for racist reasons and then switch over to polls to dissect the "black vote" we will not get anywhere. This is probably why I question the pronouns as a solution. I think less labels rather than more labels are more likely to generate equal opportunity.

This would be a way bigger discussion, but all diversity efforts we take were ment to bridge a time of transformation. Unfortunately, these predictions have not been met. So even if you managed to take some steps to broaden diversity in whatever organization you operated in, you must admit that by now that should been a fact and merely a question of mathematical and cultural distribution, not something that needs to be steered, enforced, manipulated.

 

If you want to learn more about pronoun selection/identification, it's a conversation that has been going on for years, and information is available to help inform and guide you.

In one part of this post you mentioned:

First, there is no established grammatical solution that would be accepted/used by people not defining themselves as one of the biological genders.

Are you aware that they, in exactly the usage you described, is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary now?

4—used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary

That would indicate it is both established and accepted.

Furthermore, I don't think that the questions you have asked are fair nor innocent. I'm a cis male with he/him/his pronouns by the way. When you ask, Is this the right way? you are indicating that it's not. The comparison to the completely unrelated issue of certain questions on government forms which are a hassle gives what you said a bad flavor to me.

It's clear you are opposed to the idea of pronouns but have you considered how transgender and genderqueer people feel about it?

I would humbly submit that you educate yourself around this issue before judging that this is not "the right way" because it is actually a way of promoting equity and inclusion for transgender and genderqueer people, and not only don't I see anything wrong with it, I think we could do a heck of a lot more.

 

Furthermore, I don't think that the questions you have asked are fair nor innocent.

Thank you for pointing this out. I agree--the whole premise seems like an attack, and/or rhetoric specifically to politicize my gender.

 

I think you see an enemy where there is none. You need to digest this first sentence, maybe even read the post again from a different angle. It does not make sense for me to get into your feedback unless you let go of the defense instinct I apparently triggered. If you can do so, please get back to me. I would love to further discuss. With respect - I promise.

 

In conclusion, I want to gather some opinions here. I understand that we want to be inclusive and supportive. My question is: Is this the right way?

Suggestion from a trans person here: listen to trans people who say this is important.

By the way--soliciting opinions in this way tends to invite opinions from people who are NOT most directly impacted by the issue. As of me posting this, the majority of comments here appear to be from cis men. And even though the comments from the Bens and Scott and Mitch are all very supportive and clearly done in good faith as allies, there are other resources where trans people's experiences are centered in this discussion--and you could've just started there, instead of creating yet more space for cis people to have their experiences centered, at the expense of trans people.

Honestly, I can't believe my fucking gender is a political issue to you.

 

listen to trans people who say this is important

You would have to point me to some resources here. I find a lot of non-trans authors having strong opinions but have no access to actual non binary people.

soliciting opinions in this way tends to invite opinions from people who are NOT most directly impacted by the issue

Yes! I noticed that. But here is simply where I noticed this trend, so it seemed logical to me to ask where I encounter it.

...creating yet more space for cis people to have their experiences centered, at the expense of trans people

This was neither my intention nor do I see one single comment who would be disrespectful or trying to center the topic around "our" perspective. As a matter of fact, I specifically wanted opinions outside the gender norm.

Honestly, I can't believe my fucking gender is a political issue to you.

Well, not your specific gender. And it's not a personal issue to me either. But yes, it is a political question and I fail to understand how everybody seems to have a problem with that notion. Are there not NGO LGTBQ groups rising awareness, proposing legislation, networking, educating, publishing, ...? Is it not a political topic also, then? And yes, in all honesty, since I am not personally affected, while it is way more than that to you, it is purely political to me: how do I want society to react to the legitimate call for acceptance and equality? How can that not be political?

 

It gets confusing when labels are both meaningless and very important at the same time. That is all

 

Great but could you please keep this kind of conversations where they belong?

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