Posted: Oct 02, 2014 3:39 pm
by The_Metatron
Jake wrote:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Here I'll present my argument against the use of gendered pronouns; I will not be arguing for the use of a specific gender-neutral pronoun. For those who wish to discuss specific gender-neutral pronouns and how they could be introduced linguistically, please see my topic in the Linguistics subforum:

How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?


The use of gendered pronouns is not only unnecessary, but actually contributes to gender-based prejudice and should therefore be entirely eliminated.

My argument

1. The communication of gender through pronouns does not serve any vital linguistic function. A subject can still act without a gender and an object can still be acted upon without a gender. Gender is no more vital to one's role within linguistic structure than are any number of other properties such as race, religion, hair color, height, weight, etc. If one's gender becomes relevant within a certain context, one's gender can be intentionally specified just as one's race can be intentionally specified should it become relevant. Therefore gendered pronouns serve no vital purpose; we could communicate effectively without them.

2. Humans inform their beliefs and behavior primarily through use of inductive reasoning and will therefore, consciously or subconsciously, form generalizations about types of people/creatures based upon individual examples. This is the process by which bigotry (i.e. unfair prejudice) takes hold of us. For example, one might see a Jewish banker and, through inductive reasoning (the inference of general laws from particular instances) conclude that Jews must be greedy. Similarly, when we hear that he or she acts a certain way, we are likely to associate (unless we consciously avoid doing so) his or her actions with his or her gender.

Does this mean we should never provide any specific information about those to whom we're referring? Of course not. But we shouldn't provide specific information unless it is relevant information. We can examine the consequences of providing irrelevant information through use of an example involving cable news. If a news anchor is attempting to characterize a suspect in a crime in order to help viewers identify the suspect and report his or her location, the anchor would be justified in providing as much physical detail about the suspect as possible: race, sex, age, height, weight, hair and eye colors, etc. By providing such details within the context of attempting to catch the suspect, the news anchor would not be implying that these details are somehow relevant to the suspect's criminal nature. However, if a news anchor is simply reporting a crime and characterizes the suspect as "black", "ugly", and "in his teens", without framing this characterization in the context of attempting to catch the suspect, the news anchor would be placing undue emphasis on these details, implying that they are somehow relevant to the suspect's criminal nature. Viewers, as natural inductive reasoners, would be likely to consciously or subconsciously infer a negative generalization about black people, ugly people, and teenagers simply by witnessing the news anchor's unnecessary characterization of the suspect.

We unintentionally provide irrelevant information every time we use a gendered pronoun. We would never suggest the use of racial pronouns in order to characterize every single person by their race, for example, yet we characterize someone by their gender every time we refer to them using a gendered pronoun. Gender pervades our language; the first question we ask when someone has a baby is whether the baby is a boy or a girl, causing most of us to associate anything we then hear about the baby with the gender we were just told. We would not have survived as a species without relying upon inductive reasoning, and induction does serve a vital function in the scientific method and in rational thought, yet we need to be aware of people's reliance upon inference and induction whenever we communicate, in order to avoid accidentally reinforcing or creating unfair generalizations or associations. Gendered pronouns force us to over-communicate, and should therefore be eliminated from our discourse. If we need to communicate gender for a relevant reason, we can do so separately, just as we do with race, religion, and other characteristics that are not always relevant.

It is also important to note that even if we do identify an actual trend among a certain subset of people (e.g. if we determine that blond people are, on average, less intelligent) this would not automatically imply cause and effect. We could not conclude that belonging to that subset causes one to behave in accordance with the trend. We should evaluate people based upon their individual personalities and behaviors instead of relying upon generalizations, accurate or otherwise, about subsets of people.

Brief counterarguments and rebuttals

1. Language's purpose is to convey as much information as possible. This is untrue. Language's purpose is to provide as much control as possible over information output. If one wishes to conceal information, language should provide mechanisms for successful concealing of information or outright deception. A gay person who has not yet come out to their parents may wish to conceal their partner's gender from their parents in order to avoid revealing the same-sex status of their relationship, yet referring to their partner without using gendered pronouns would act as an immediate red-flag to the gay person's parents. But if we as a society used gender-neutral pronouns by default, the issue of gender would likely never be raised, and the gay person could talk to their parents about their partner without revealing their partner's gender or appearing suspicious. This situation is only one example in which default use of gender-neutral pronouns would actually increase language's function as a tool for controlling information output.

2. We can simply recognize the consequences of using gendered pronouns and eliminate said consequences through conscious effort. While some people are rational enough to recognize and eliminate their own unfair prejudices, everyone is inductive and inferential by nature and most people do not recognize this or attempt to control it. To claim that we do not form unfair generalizations and associations about subsets of the population is to ignore the inductive nature of the human brain.

Closing statement

I've tried to summarize my argument as much as possible. Feel free to criticize or argue against any of the points I've made, or to ask for expansion or clarification. If we agree and you would like to begin eliminating the use of gendered pronouns from our language, please follow the link to my Linguistics topic.

P.S. I find the following exercise helps me to identify my own automatic, inductive bias as it relates to gendered pronouns. Read the following statements:

"She was loud."

"She was annoying."

"He was cowardly."

"He was strong."

"She was fat."

"He was skinny."

It appears the speaker is associating the gender of each pronoun with the corresponding characteristic. The women seem to be judged for being loud, annoying, or fat, as women. The men seem to be judged for being cowardly or skinny, as men, or they seem to be commended for being strong, as men. These gendered pronouns create unnecessary and irrelevant associations in our minds and imply the speaker considers the subjects' genders relevant to the subjects' other characteristics. Now read the same statements after each gendered pronoun has been replaced with the singular "they" (one of English's only gender-neutral pronouns).

They were loud.

They were annoying.

They were cowardly.

They were strong.

They were fat.

They were skinny.

All of the emphasis is placed on the subjects' relevant characteristics and no unfair associations between gender and other characteristics are suggested. The subjects are treated as people rather than as genders, and the desired amount of information is communicated.

No, the subjects have been made into vague blobs of unknown numbers of people, instead of the more clear sentences that describe individuals.

Pop on over to A+. They revel in this shit. Or he does. Or zur does, or some stupid shit.