My problem with pronouns

There is a trend in certain liberal circles right now to put “your preferred pronouns” on your email, on your business cards, on your name tag at conferences, etc. I don’t do it. Yet, I live in fear of being challenged for not doing it, in part because I’m a cisgender hetero white male who  runs in multiple liberal circles. And I’m sure I get perceived as being a “cranky old white dude” not willing to give up power. But I actually have two other reasons that I don’t do it.

First: Privilege. Note that the only place you see this trend is among educated elite and like-minded groups of liberals. You don’t see the cashier at Taco Bell or the grocery store worker doing this. You don’t see this trend with school custodian or manufacturing workers. And if Taco Bell did allow this, could the staff get mad at customers and correct them when they didn’t use the right pronoun? I mean Starbucks can’t get some people’s names right but I have to get their pronouns right? The reality is that advertising how they want people to interpret their gender isn’t a luxury they have. I’m not claiming to be one of them. In fact, the opposite. As a privileged straight white male, I’m not going to use my power and privilege to further dictate to people what they call me. I feel like dictating what pronouns you use to describe me is like the professor who insists you call them doctor or professor. As if you need to constantly remind them of their special place in society. Telling people to refer to me as “he” is just saying “remind yourself of my privilege.” Even the military gets tired of using ranks with people you work with all the time. On this note, I’ve noticed that it is largely women and non-gender binary folks who participate in this trend which makes me wonder how many other white males feel this way.

Second: It doesn’t function in practice. At a conference, I had a speaker pass out pronoun stickers and tell everyone to put it on their name tag. Then during her session, two minutes later, she started repeatedly said “I can’t see your name tag from up here, so I’m going to assume you use _____” from the front of the room. Not only is this the case at conferences, but we also don’t walk around with our email signatures pasted to us every day. If you really want to be inclusive in your language, don’t modify it for each person – practice saying “they” and using people’s names all the time, not just at conferences and on email. I feel bad for non-gender binary folks who have a preferred pronoun but often find people using the other one. I just don’t think telling people what pronouns you prefer is the answer to changing several thousand years of language programming. Encouraging society to adopt a single non-gender specific pronoun for every single person seems the better linguistic and practical route.

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