My favorite feminist word is not "patriarchy" or "privilege." It is not "sisterhood" or "womyn." It is not even "respect" or "consent."
My favorite feminist word is "person."
I've been trying to use it whenever gender isn't relevant to the story. "There was this person walking down the street..." "I'm reading a book by a person who..." "There's a person I work with..."
"Man" and "woman" shouldn't be nouns. They should be adjectives. Man person and woman person. And when none of that has anything to do with anything, person.
Feminism is the radical notion that everyone is people.
In a perfect world, people wouldn't automatically associate certain traits with "man" and certain traits with "woman," and thus you could use them freely without worrying about it have an effect on how your story is heard.ReplyDelete
But here in the real world, I agree with you.
Interesting post(and I really enjoy your blog), but if some one has a child the first question is about gender - because at first there's not a whole lot going on (seems out-going, startles easy, ok -) but gender is a major life factor, right now.ReplyDelete
In most cases, yes, "person" works just fine - but not in all cases. If a straight person uses that word to refer to sexual partners, the assumption quickly becomes they're bi.
I'm one of the people who transcribe XKCD strips for the site search. Almost every character is an unnamed stick figure whose gender is never mentioned. So when I write the transcripts, I try to use gender-neutral labels for people, even when one has hair and one doesn't, or it's a couple, or whatever. 'Cause it doesn't matter!ReplyDelete
Also, you *need* to use "person" if you want to include everybody, including me!
but if some one has a child the first question is about genderReplyDelete
That backs up Holly's point. That's a problem, because first of all, no one knows what a baby's gender is; at best (and not always) we know the baby's sex. So really, the first question people are asking is "what kind of junk does your baby have?" and that is one weird fucking question, and one we should maybe, as a society, stop asking.
Peter - How can you know a baby's gender? That stuff doesn't usually come out until... like 18, really.ReplyDelete
You can know a baby's sex, but that doesn't really tell you much. (I'm not just talking about the possibility that they'll be transgendered; I'm also not sure by what measure two women of totally different personality and gender expression are the "same" gender.) There's not much that's different about newborn babies, though, so I guess that's what people go for.
Molly - I think the question "is it a boy or a girl?" sort of suggests that these are two different things, instead of two kinds of one thing.ReplyDelete
Congratulations! It's a baby.
Peter: I don't agree that gender is a major life factor when you're a baby! When you're a baby, why on earth does it matter? You basically just eat and poop and hang out in perambulators having your cuteness shown off. All of these things are gender-neutral. (The parents of Pop and Storm seem to think so too.)ReplyDelete
If a straight person uses that word to refer to sexual partners, the assumption quickly becomes they're bi.
So what? If it's relevant or anyone else's business what the sexuality of the speaker is, they're free to be more specific. If they choose not to specify, and people take that to mean they can't assume anything about the gender of the person's partner, mission accomplished!
I know lots of people who refer to their opposite-sex partners gender-neutrally as "partners." I think this is great--it takes the pressure off anyone who is choosing not to disclose their partner's gender, by making it normal and not a big deal not to be specific.
Feminism is the radical notion that everyone is people.ReplyDelete
Oooh! So, feminism is like libertarianism?
My first questions about a new baby are always "What name did you choose? How much did the baby weigh, and how long?" Sometimes that's followed with a wince and commiseration with the new mother, depending on how big the baby was. (One of my former students--tiny little thing of about 5' and maybe 95 lbs, gave birth to a 10.5 lb baby, for example.)ReplyDelete
I don't need to know about junk unless I'm changing the diaper. And then it's to make sure I don't get shot.
That sounds like a great idea. :) I'll do it myself.ReplyDelete
I've been trying to use language inclusive of trans people when I talk about gender, so if I talk about clitorises I'll refer to people as "vagina-bearers" instead of "women." Also, I've reluctantly accepted the singular "they."
I have to say that I don't like person as a word. It's kind of clunky and formal for such a common concept.ReplyDelete
Sometimes I wish we could go back to the way gender words worked in Old English, where "man" was gender neutral and you had to shove a prefix on it if you wanted to specify gender.
Though, oddly appropriate you posted this on the 4th of July:ReplyDelete
One of my favorite parts of the Constitution is that it, for the most part, uses gender neutral language. For example. the requirements to be president:
"No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."
I've done this for a few years now as well. What's funny is most people don't even notice that you're doing it. I also refuse to use racial descriptions for people either because 99.99% of the time it's not important.ReplyDelete
This is not an argument, just a pondering: does using no sex and racial descriptors have the effect of "disappearing" women and people of color from day to day stories, since the default "person" in the mind of a hearer is a white man? I'm thinking of the studies that find phrases like "all-American boy" in the minds of both white and black people bring to mind a white person. Maybe it's one of those things that you have to consider a fight-the-power kind of thing, keep doing it until the point is made.ReplyDelete
Chi - I think it can be fun to do a "Tomato Surprise" (see TvTropes... if you dare) in some of those instances--get deep into the story and then drop a "she" or a non-English name or finish the story and then show a picture of the non-white person.ReplyDelete
I don't mean as an Amazing Reveal--that could get pretty condescending--but as a reinforcement that this isn't their entire identity, and as a way to get people to realize that the "default" image they were using is wrong.
Ozy, there's nothing wrong with singular they. It's been around for hundreds of years. Language Log occaisonally post on it.ReplyDelete
AHH, Holly, I will not go to TV Tropes! I have to finish painting my bathroom today! :PReplyDelete
Though I was just thinking of the "I can't operate, this is my son" illustration.
How I would love to use the singular "they" all the time! But then I feel like I would have to post a "this sounds wrong, but it actually is isn't" disclaimer or risk my grammar nerd membership.
You don't have to post anything. You just have to be right.ReplyDelete
You are right about singular they, so go ahead with it.
I do the same, Holly.ReplyDelete
An interesting thing about the word person is it omits reference not just to sex but also to age. Although I notice in the love/marriage post the only place a young person was actually referred to as a person is when they were "missing", so maybe that isn't considered a benefit.ReplyDelete
@Anonymous Troll - That's another thing I love about using "person." It always bothers me when kids are only kids and older people are just someone's grandma or grandpa. We're all people.ReplyDelete
I also use "person/people" a lot by default. I just wish they were single syllable words that rolled off the tongue. "Guys" is such an easy word to use. I know I'm not the only one to use it for mixed groups, and some use it for groups of women too though that begins to sound incorrect to me.ReplyDelete
I'll also agree with the commenters who said "person" can be almost too subtle, and people don't notice you're doing it. In casual spoken conversation I think that's actually what I want, because I'm just trying to tell a story about what happened at the grocery store, or whatever. But in written media I really like the subtle gender reveal. Slipping in the pronoun "she" somewhere in the middle of the story can make a reader stop and raise their consciousness. And by not making a big deal out of it you demonstrate how it *shouldn't* be a big deal.
Sometimes I try to do a tomato surprise in spoken conversations too, but the discussion thread can move on too quickly and I don't get the chance for the reveal. Nrgh, feminist blueballs.
Or is that personist bluegonads?
My favorite professor (grad student in social work) always refers to folks as "man people" "woman people" "boy people" or "girl people." It's one of the reasons that she's my favorite.ReplyDelete
I love this! Especially because of Anonymous Troll's point that it also erases age. I've always wanted a word for women like "guy," which is pretty age-independent and casual. I feel like I'm often caught trying to choose between woman, which sounds fairly formal to me, and girl, which seems condescending to people out of their teens. Voila - person!ReplyDelete
I also want to cast my vote for the singular "they" being grammatically fine, and very helpful.
I like to use person too, both in English and Spanish. I'm going to do my best and use it more often.ReplyDelete
I've pretty much always used person and singular they this way. Most people don't even notice it I do it. XD I am very much in support of this.ReplyDelete
I'm so happy to hear "person" is working out so well in day-to-day conversation! I've always hated how clunky "they" sounds, like you're trying to hide something. I will use it henceforth.ReplyDelete
@Ozymandias: I've been trying to use language inclusive of trans people when I talk about gender, so if I talk about clitorises I'll refer to people as "vagina-bearers" instead of "women."ReplyDelete
Hey, what a great way to reduce people to their genitalia. Would it kill you to at least say "people with vaginas," or is succinctness more important than acknowledging that people have an identity beyond their sex organs?
for those who don't like the formality of "person" might I suggest "folks"?ReplyDelete
I use it a lot in papers when talking about "trans* folks, people of color, individuals with disabilities" etc. (as in, to make the paper not super boring by saying people people people repetitively).
Triplanetary is a little harsh, but I agree that "vagina-bearers" == bad idea.ReplyDelete
If you dislike the singular "they" and don't care about historical usage or what grammarians and linguists have to say about it, there is always "zie/zir" or some other invented pronoun that is understood among those of us in the know... (cool table at Wikipedia)ReplyDelete
Right on. I try to do the same, use "person" instead of a gendered word the same way I use "partner" or "partnered" to talk about people in committed LTRs regardless of gender or orientation (admittedly a lot easier and clearer here in Canadia where "partner" is not as associated with LGBT like it is in the US and we have all kinds of "marriages" from traditional to same-sex to common-law).ReplyDelete
I also make a point of clarifying, when someone says "Men do _____" or "Women like ______", that "Well, some PEOPLE do ______ or like ______ this...it's not strictly segregated by gender." I also like to use the word "pal" or "pals" in place of the generic "guys" when I mean people of either gender. Some may argue that this is just semantic games, but words and implicit associations are powerful and I think working to tip the balance towards egalitarianism is worth it. And I like being subversive :)
I'm a transman and I would like to see more inclusive language used by, well, everyone. I would be a whole lot happier if the leaflets at the doctor's office weren't so damn cissexist. Why not just say "All people over the age of _ who have vaginas and uteruses..." instead of "All women over the age of _..."? I'm so damn sick of the institutionalized erasure of trans* people.ReplyDelete
Sir Gabe: Seriously. Why don't doctors' offices do that? It's a pretty simple thing.ReplyDelete
Trip and Black Humor: I... honestly don't think that's that bad? I mean, I say "polo players" and that's not reducing people to their sport; I say "African Americans" and that's not reducing people to their ethnicity. Otoh, you don't say "the blacks" or "the gays" because that makes you sound like racist cousin Jimmy, but I'm pretty sure racist cousin Jimmy never refers to anyone as a vagina bearer. :P
Also, I blog about sex, so usually when it comes up I'm saying something like "hey! Fellow Vagina Americans! Can you stimulate your G-spot while masturbating? Because I can't and it's annoying" so genitals are already, as it were, on the table.
This isn't meant to be some kind of "RAARRRGH I'M RIGHT" comment and I'm sorry if it comes off that way but more like a "so this is my logic! Is there something I'm missing?" comment.
I actually have started using "mentlegen" instead of gender-specific pronouns in certain contexts.ReplyDelete
I say it in the voice of the TF2 Spy. Y'know...
People seem to very much approve. :)
" Right on. I try to do the same, use "person" instead of a gendered word the same way I use "partner" or "partnered" to talk about people in committed LTRs regardless of gender or orientation (admittedly a lot easier and clearer here in Canadia where "partner" is not as associated with LGBT like it is in the US and we have all kinds of "marriages" from traditional to same-sex to common-law). "
I always feel torn about this one, since as a queer person, sometimes talking about the gender of a (in my case, potential) partner feels like an important part of increasing queer visibility and/or being out (which is more a self-care thing) - sometimes obscuring the gender of a partner can feel too close to the equivocating one may do when in the closet, and the opposite of being proud of who you are as queer person.
But also it really bugs me that our media culture apparently regards gender as the most important possible characteristic of someone (eg. people are frequently the 'right man/woman for the job' but very rarely the 'right African-Candian for the job' or the 'right visually impaired person for the job').
So basically I don't know what is the better thing to do. Any ideas?
I like "partner," too, as a neutral term for people in LTRs. Part of that is because I'm bi and I feel like calling my husband my partner instead makes that aspect of my identity a little more visible. It's more gender-neutral so it can make people rethink the hetero/monogamous/cis="normal" thing. And "husband" just sounds weird to me; it comes with all sorts of other expectations about gender roles and things. Partner implies a much more egalitarian relationship.ReplyDelete
April Q, that is a good point. My personal take is that I think that using nongender specific language then opens the door for further conversations...instead of making assumptions (like "you're a lady so your partner must be a dude"), people have to actually ask or you have to offer more info. I think the non-assumptions model will become more common as people use more inclusive language. It reminds me a lot of how things work in the queer circles I travel in...people don't assume, they just ask, which I find refreshing.ReplyDelete
On a similar note, I HATE the gendered assumption that "hey, you're a lady so you're gonna be a mother some day." Hells no! Not every PERSON wants to or can reproduce or they may want to but not in the assumed way (e.g., my single friend who decided to go the anonymous sperm donor route and is sick of people assuming she's a single mom because some dude knocked her up and dumped her).
So yeah, let's treat each other like individuals and people...it just seems more respectful and accurate. :)
The third person pronoun in Finnish in genderless, roughly translatable as the non-plural interpretation of 'them' or 'they'. The Finns win again.ReplyDelete
Ozymandias: Seriously, it irritates the shit out of me. I am not female, but I have a womb. Maybe I'll ask one of the local LGBT groups if we can write to them to ask that the doctors include trans* people on their literature. I find this failure to include people such as myself, to be pretty damn offensive and it makes it awkward for me to just go in and ask about getting pills and checkups.ReplyDelete
Not the exact same, but in the same vein, I have been attempting to my boyfriend to notice when he mentions race in a story when it is unnecessary (which is most of the time.) It is difficult because he kinda gets it but of course doesn't understand why it matters to me so much.ReplyDelete
I will have to reevaluate my own thought process and see if I unnecessarily label genders, as well.
One of my pet peeves is "guys" as a gender neutral term for a mixed gender group of people. It is so completely not gender neutral.ReplyDelete
In many groups, especially of children, there are reasons they are together that would be a better collective noun than guys. Hey swimmers! Hey students! Hey scouts! Hey team!
It is even worse when all involved are women and still someone says "hey guys." For some reason the female swim teachers refer to themselves during the shark lunch game as Mr Shark. WTF people?
That's the way it is in Japanese: someone is a person (hito/jin) before being anything else. You say "otoko no hito" to say a man (literally, a male person) and "onna no hito" to say a woman (a female person). This extends to nationality as well: amerika jin for an American person, nihon jin for a Japanese person, furansu jin for a French person.ReplyDelete
In French, by contrast, trying to be gender neutral is really tricky, because even the word "person" is gendered ("une personne") meaning that you have to continue using the female pronuon "elle" afterwards in the text, which causes a lot of confusion if you're talking about a man. Your only option is to use the impersonal "on," but that means you don't know anything about the identity of the subject ("on vient" means "someone's coming"). It can also mean "we," but only colloquially.
I'm a French person who's been learning Japanese for two years (in a very lackadaisical manner, so I may say something stupid here) and it's funny how much more gender-neutral Japanese is (even more so than English). In French, for adjectives, you have the masculine/feminine form, and the single/plural form. In English, you just have the adjective, no forms. In Japanese, you have the present/past form, and the positive/negative form. You don't even have gendered pronouns.
I am a huge fan of singular "they" in all registers of English. If anything I kind of wish it could be extended to referring to specific individuals of known gender as well as those whose gender you don't know or generic impersonal speech. I find English (and other languages') gendered pronouns annoying and largely pointless. There aren't really that many situations where the gender makes it clearer who you're referring to, and if we really needed more than one third person singular pronoun (and we don't; plenty of languages get along just fine with only one), there are more efficient ways to divide up the semantic space. (Look up proximate vs. obviative pronouns, for instance.) I also like the idea of dedicated gender-neutral third person singular pronouns (e.g. zie) in theory, although in practice I don't think they have much hope of catching on among English speakers in general.ReplyDelete
I must admit to a mild, irrational distaste for "person" in certain contexts, especially as the suffix "-person"; I find "-man" more "euphonious" despite it being unsatisfactory for other reasons. I think this is probably just an unfortunate bit of cultural conditioning that I have yet to unlearn, though. "Person" or a word with equivalent meaning certainly SHOULD be treated as more basic as, and used more often than, gendered terms.
I just want to say that I really love this post and fully agree with it <3ReplyDelete
When I took french in High School and discovered the pronoun 'on' it opened my eyes to the possibility of using 'one' as a pronoun in English. (Although I tend to use it more to avoid 'you'. So I guess I use it where someone might use 'everyone' or 'someone'.)ReplyDelete
Also... People don't seem to like the passive voice in writing but I find that is one way to avoid excessive gendering. *shrug*