Why we should not use gendered pronouns

An argument against gendered pronouns; criticism welcome

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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#41  Postby Pulsar » Oct 03, 2014 1:57 am

Clive Durdle wrote:On language and disability things are changing for the better. Spaz, crip, gimp, mong are now not acceptable. "Disabled people" is slowly becoming normal as newspaper editors use their guides.

I really don't understand this. Why is "spastic" and "crippled" less acceptable than "disabled"? "spastic" and "crippled" are accurate descriptions of someone's motor skills without any implied judgement. "disabled" on the other hand contrasts those people with so-called "abled" persons, whatever the hell that means. Not only is this binary distinction much harsher, dividing the population into two groups, but the word "disabled" means "not able to do something" or "not functioning", which imo carries far more negative connotations.

It's the same with "black people" vs "people of colour". The first is just a description of skin colour, any other associations are in your head (in fact, black is widely considered cool). "people of colour" not only sounds horrible, it again divides the population into two groups for no reason. Plus it makes no sense, as if Caucasians don't have a skin colour.

Imo, calling a spade a spade is more clear and leaves less room for misinterpretation. All of those so-called politically correct euphemisms (which seem to change more frequently than fashion) are not only vague, they also sound dishonest and patronizing, as if minorities should be treated like toddlers.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#42  Postby babel » Oct 03, 2014 6:58 am

Jake wrote:
babel wrote:
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.
This, to me, sounds like you are attempting to solve one problem by camouflage. The issue in this lies with the social prejudice vis a vis homosexuality. People shouldn't feel the need to conceal their partner's gender (especially for their parents)
The gender neutral pronouns won't change a thing about the reluctance in the closet gay people experience to come out. I would actually argue the opposite. Hiding it by omitting the gender of their partner tries to hide that 'unpleasant fact' from those holding bigoted opinions on such relationships.

With regards to your examples: I find them poorly chosen, since none of the female examples is positive, unlike for the male examples. I wonder where these associations occur.

My example has nothing to do with solving the problem of homophobia. I was giving an example of how one individual in one specific situation could use gender-neutral pronouns to conceal information. I'm not claiming gender-neutral pronouns would defeat homophobia, only that they would increase the functionality of language as a tool for controlling information output. I could have used any example in which someone would want to conceal gender. I did not choose a gay-related example in order to connect this issue to gay rights.
But, as I stated, concealing information contributes nothing to solving the problem that is at the basis of your gripe with gender pronouns: gender based bigotry. It just camouflages it.
If you wish to withhold information, that option is already there. Apart from the option of concealing the entire relationship, you can be vague about who you are seeing. I'm pretty sure people are already using language that way, without inventing ways to be vague in a structural way.

Jake wrote:
babel wrote:
Jake wrote: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.
But for all these other descriptors, there's no pronoun available, so it requires to add complexity to your sentence to specify. For gender, thanks to the gender specific pronouns, you can easily include that information without much effort.
Furthermore, this argument boils down to "I don't think gender information is that important".
First of all: I disagree, which is just as much valid as your argument that it isn't.

Yes, but we have no problem with supplying information about people without using pronouns. We could easily do the same for gender.

My argument doesn't "boil down" to anything. It stands as it is, in all of its nuanced complexity. I acknowledge that genders are important in some contexts, but using gendered pronouns implies they are relevant in all contexts. You've simply stated your own opinion with no argument to back it up. You seem to imply that gender is always relevant in all contexts. If you want to support this assertion or a similar assertion, you're going to need an actual argument of your own.
Errr, so did you. What part of your OP do you think constitutes more than an opinion? Certainly not the assertion that the use of gender specific pronouns automatically means people make associations. I'm quite looking forward to you making that case.

Jake wrote:
Second: your disagreeing with yourself. For it to be unimportant or irrelevant information, you seem to attach an awful lot of associations and importance to it.

I don't mean this as an insult, but this statement is as ridiculous as the assertion that atheists should not care about religion or attach importance to it simply because they don't believe in God.
I think that religion and its impact on society is better documented that your assertion that gender specific pronouns create or reinforce stereotypes.
Jake wrote:My point is that gendered pronouns create unfair associations and importance within our brains, and that we should eliminate these pronouns to avoid creating these associations.
Yes, I got that the first time, and you have yet to show that this is indeed the case.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#43  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 7:54 am

Pulsar wrote:
Clive Durdle wrote:On language and disability things are changing for the better. Spaz, crip, gimp, mong are now not acceptable. "Disabled people" is slowly becoming normal as newspaper editors use their guides.

I really don't understand this. Why is "spastic" and "crippled" less acceptable than "disabled"? "spastic" and "crippled" are accurate descriptions of someone's motor skills without any implied judgement. "disabled" on the other hand contrasts those people with so-called "abled" persons, whatever the hell that means.


My favorite is "retarded," which is a nicer word than "disabled." It's just the opposite of advanced. You advance the spark, or you retard it. It isn't even as judgmental as "slow." It just means someone is behind, and that's all it is. There are cases where people have been deemed retarded when they just hadn't hit their stride or found the environment that stimulates them the best. Most of the rest of the terms imply a permanent condition.

William Raspberry encountered this, and he said in a speech that a friend suggested that any disenfranchised group will eventually come to loathe whatever term is used.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#44  Postby VazScep » Oct 03, 2014 10:49 am

My brother, the schoolteacher, noticed that whatever name you gave to the kids who were struggling and had to have extra tuition, that name eventually became the go to classroom insult that kids would hurl at each other, even when the name was an obscure acronym. The policy was to continually freshen the name, but each choice was doomed from the outset.
Here we go again. First, we discover recursion.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#45  Postby laklak » Oct 03, 2014 3:44 pm

@Beat - yeah I agree that we need a better gender-neutral pronoun than "they", particularly in the writing examples you mentioned. I hate reading "he/she", I get truly annoyed with that. But then again "ze", "zir" and the like also annoy the shit out of me. Basically everything annoys the shit out of me, I'm turning into a curmudgeonly old git. I think I'm channeling my Dad. I'll soon be chasing kids out of my yard, waving my cane in the air.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#46  Postby Clive Durdle » Oct 03, 2014 3:55 pm

And why has the Spastics Society changed its name, and why do disabled people in Britain use that formulation? And I deliberately used "spaz and "crip".

Btw, who has heard the term "gimp"?

Cretin?
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#47  Postby Clive Durdle » Oct 03, 2014 4:02 pm

We are disabled people leading change to:
Mobilise disabled people’s leadership and control – in our own lives, our organisations and society

Achieve independent living in practice

Break the link between disability and poverty

Put disability equality and human rights into practice across society

We are concentrating on two priorities for the 2013 -2015 period:

Independent Living – getting a life - We want to see more disabled people exercising choice and control over our support and our lives, to realise the human right to participate fully in society
Career Opportunities – getting work, education and skills - We want greater equality at work - a reduced gap between disabled and non-disabled people’s employment and pay
Our Mission

We strengthen the voice of disabled people to make our rights real, as an effective national organisation led by people with a wide range of impairments or health conditions.

Disability Rights UK was formed through a unification of Disability Alliance, Radar and National Centre for Independent Living on 1 January 2012.



http://disabilityrightsuk.org/about-us/what-we-do
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#48  Postby orpheus » Oct 03, 2014 4:48 pm

epepke wrote:
Pulsar wrote:
Clive Durdle wrote:On language and disability things are changing for the better. Spaz, crip, gimp, mong are now not acceptable. "Disabled people" is slowly becoming normal as newspaper editors use their guides.

I really don't understand this. Why is "spastic" and "crippled" less acceptable than "disabled"? "spastic" and "crippled" are accurate descriptions of someone's motor skills without any implied judgement. "disabled" on the other hand contrasts those people with so-called "abled" persons, whatever the hell that means.


My favorite is "retarded," which is a nicer word than "disabled." It's just the opposite of advanced. You advance the spark, or you retard it. It isn't even as judgmental as "slow." It just means someone is behind, and that's all it is. There are cases where people have been deemed retarded when they just hadn't hit their stride or found the environment that stimulates them the best. Most of the rest of the terms imply a permanent condition.

William Raspberry encountered this, and he said in a speech that a friend suggested that any disenfranchised group will eventually come to loathe whatever term is used.


In my experience, the actual members of the group often care a lot less than those who are determined to be outraged on their behalf.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#49  Postby orpheus » Oct 03, 2014 5:01 pm

laklak wrote:@Beat - yeah I agree that we need a better gender-neutral pronoun than "they", particularly in the writing examples you mentioned. I hate reading "he/she", I get truly annoyed with that. But then again "ze", "zir" and the like also annoy the shit out of me.


Yeah, I also agree here. The lack of a gender-neutral pronoun can make speaking awkward, and it's a real pain in the ass when writing. But I think the key is that it should be an option; I don't think we should eliminate the use of gendered pronouns. Here I disagree with Jake and the title of the thread. In fact, if the point of language is to "control" the flow of information, I fail to see how eliminating options serves that purpose.


Basically everything annoys the shit out of me, I'm turning into a curmudgeonly old git. I think I'm channeling my Dad. I'll soon be chasing kids out of my yard, waving my cane in the air.


Amen! Chronologically I'm only ten years behind you, lak — yet you took the words right out of my mouth.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#50  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 5:07 pm

orpheus wrote:In my experience, the actual members of the group often care a lot less than those who are determined to be outraged on their behalf.


Yeah, that's true, too. I was thinking about that the other day. Until Saturday, I'm living in Oregon, where people are far too white. One of the most annoying things about white people is their propensity to arrogate to themselves knowledge about and ability to control what other people are allowed to care about.

Not that this thread is specifically about white people, but the idea is part and parcel of the same attitude.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#51  Postby Evolving » Oct 03, 2014 5:07 pm

orpheus wrote:
In my experience, the actual members of the group often care a lot less than those who are determined to be outraged on their behalf.


If they seem to be less outraged, that doesn't necessarily mean they are less outraged. They may not want to be seen to be complaining all the time; or they may simply be tired of complaining.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#52  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 03, 2014 5:09 pm

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.


1) Language isn't entirely for utilitarian purposes. Further, judging what is useful or not in the abstract and generalizing from it is worthless in comparison to the way language is actually used. Had there been no utilitarian functionality for using gendered pronouns, they'd never have arisen - that, of course, doesn't indicate that they are a necessity, but language isn't just for necessity.

2) That's precisely what language is for, making platonic generalizations which easily convey significance to another.

I live in a society where pronouns are often dropped altogether. Many people get confused - even natives - as to who is doing what to whom. However, the tone can sometimes provide sufficient significance to convey some of the lost meaning.

Using a gendered pronoun only generalizes gender - nothing else, which is perfectly acceptable for the vast majority of social interaction. If someone possesses a suite of fallacious associations with a particular gender, the act of not using a pronoun has no bearing on that whatsoever, it's like you're suggesting that we sweep it under the carpet rather than just deal with the problems of prejudice.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#53  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 5:12 pm

orpheus wrote:Yeah, I also agree here. The lack of a gender-neutral pronoun can make speaking awkward, and it's a real pain in the ass when writing.


It can be a pain, but it's usually possible without getting too unspecific. The singular "they" seems to be more acceptable these days than it used to be.

One of the truly annoying things about writing in the 1980s and 1990s was a preponderance of authors who took pains to alternate their sexed pronouns. That in and of itself probably wouldn't have been too annoying, except that they also took pains to point out that they were doing it, and so call attention to themselves. Surely if there is a reason to avoid sexed pronouns, it is to make distracting things recede into the undetectable background, and calling attention to something is precisely the opposite.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#54  Postby Evolving » Oct 03, 2014 5:13 pm

This is something on which I agree with both of you.

In fact it is something I agree with both of you about. :)
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#55  Postby scott1328 » Oct 03, 2014 5:43 pm

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.


Isn't this merely the weak form of the Whorfian hypothesis? Where language has been shown to shape thought at all, the effect has been small (i.e. memorizing colors when the language doesn't distinguish two shades of colors).

I think it is a huge unjustified leap to say that gendered pronouns instills biases by means of over-generalizations.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#56  Postby VazScep » Oct 03, 2014 6:45 pm

epepke wrote:
orpheus wrote:Yeah, I also agree here. The lack of a gender-neutral pronoun can make speaking awkward, and it's a real pain in the ass when writing.


It can be a pain, but it's usually possible without getting too unspecific. The singular "they" seems to be more acceptable these days than it used to be.

One of the truly annoying things about writing in the 1980s and 1990s was a preponderance of authors who took pains to alternate their sexed pronouns. That in and of itself probably wouldn't have been too annoying, except that they also took pains to point out that they were doing it, and so call attention to themselves. Surely if there is a reason to avoid sexed pronouns, it is to make distracting things recede into the undetectable background, and calling attention to something is precisely the opposite.
When I started writing papers ten years ago, I used "she" everywhere. I got called up on it in review and told it was too distracting.

I was really glad when someone sent me that article justifying the use of "they." That was the gender neutral pronoun I'd grown up with and was most comfortable using. I instantly got over the desire to "raise consciousness".
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#57  Postby laklak » Oct 03, 2014 6:51 pm

orpheus wrote:
Amen! Chronologically I'm only ten years behind you, lak — yet you took the words right out of my mouth.


Curmudgeonrey is a state of mind, Orph, not an age. I've a 25 year old nephew who can curmudge with the best of us old farts.

EDIT - oops, "nephew" is gendered. Perhaps I should say "25 year old offspring of my sibling". Wouldn't want to go saddling zir with gender-biased presumptions.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#58  Postby Thommo » Oct 03, 2014 7:11 pm

laklak wrote:EDIT - oops, "nephew" is gendered. Perhaps I should say "25 year old offspring of my sibling". Wouldn't want to go saddling zir with gender-biased presumptions.


Zeroeth cousin once removed descending?
Sibling once removed?

:think:

All this has me wondering why my wife's brother is my brother-in-law and yet my sister's husband is too.

At this point I will settle for nothing short of rigidly defined areas of uncertainty, damnit.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#59  Postby scott1328 » Oct 03, 2014 7:27 pm

The in-law of your in-law, is NOT your in-law

The in-law relationship is reflexive, but not transitive.
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Re: Why we should not use gendered pronouns

#60  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 7:40 pm

VazScep wrote:When I started writing papers ten years ago, I used "she" everywhere. I got called up on it in review and told it was too distracting.


Ten years ago seems a bit late to me, but then again, the UK tends to be a bit more, well, you know. I still remember the day when the Times declared "Ms." unprintable.

In the US, I don't think anybody would even notice the use of "she" throughout, at least in Computer Science papers. Maybe it was a bit distracting in the VT-100 era, but those days are long gone.

In itself, this is kind of good. People get used to things and don't notice them any more.

When I was a kid in the 60's, there was a riddle. A father and his son are in a car crash. The father dies. The son is rushed to the hospital. The surgeon says, "I can't operate on this boy. He's my son." How can this be?

I guess people were supposed to be puzzled and not think that the surgeon was his mother. Then I guess they were probably supposed to be ashamed of it. Or something. It was always obvious to me.

I don't think that riddle would get anybody these days, even the slowest thinkers, because nowadays female physicians are commonplace.
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