The Next Big Thing: Gender-Free Language

February 13, 2013

Pity the poor pronoun “he.”  No two letters strung together have caused more angst for a generation of writers than that simple pronoun.

It was once a man’s world, in which “he” ruled.  Then along came “gender neutral” language, one of the signature achievements of the baby boomer generation.  Awkward sentence constructions are its legacy.

“He” has been castrated.  Like diversity programs, which make up for past sins by discriminating against straight, white males, we have language constructions that call attention to themselves and shout out their gender neutrality.

Floundering with pronouns, we’ve come up with many variations.  Some of us have decided to go with “he or she,” as though the English language were a multiple choice quiz.  Of course, “he or she” is only slightly less sexist than just plain “he,” as “he” comes before “she.”

The truly enlightened use “she or he,” but there’s also the horrific “he/she,” “s/he” or sometimes even just “she,” in another attempt to make up for thousands of years of male dominance.  Other options include using the second person “you” or going collectivist and making everything plural, so we can use the gender-free “they.”

The eunuch “he” is so vilified, some employers have come up with guides for avoiding it.  One example is Sarah Lawrence College (with both “Sarah” and “Lawrence” in its name, you know the school takes gender neutrality seriously), which includes the following language on its Web site:

“In an effort to avoid gendered language in this document, Sarah Lawrence College has chosen to make exception to select grammatical rules (i.e. pronoun agreement).”

Yes, at Sarah Lawrence, “gender” is a verb.  Be sure not to gender your language if you want to write for SLC.  And, being a college, there’s no need to follow “grammatical rules,” never mind rules of grammar.  These gender neutral rules are so important, they were chosen not by any individual at SLC, but by the college itself!

The guide says, “When absolutely unavoidable, use plural non-gendered pronouns (they, them, their) to replace singular gendered pronouns (he, she, him, her).”  So political correctness trumps “grammatical” correctness at an American college. 

How shocking.  Talk about the descent of man!

SLC gives the following example of two acceptable ways to write a sentence:

If a friend is assaulted, assure him or her it was not his or her fault; he or she did his or her best.

If a friend is assaulted, assure them it was not their fault; your friend did their best.

How about this instead: “If a friend is assaulted, call the police.”

What’s Next?

Now that gender neutrality has spread throughout the land, what’s left for the next generation to tackle?

There’s a logical next step – gender-free language.  Just as the American Civil Liberties Union helped us achieve true religious freedom by removing religion from everything, the only way to achieve true gender freedom is to make the English language genderless.

It’s easy.  Just substitute “it” for “he or she,” “she and he,” “they” (when the subject is singular) and every other odious concoction the gender police have come up with.  Consider its use in the sentence from above:

If a friend is assaulted, assure it it was not its fault; it did its best.

Or, to be more SLC-appropriate, maybe:

If a friend is assaulted, assure it or it it was not it or its fault; it or it did it or its best.

While we’re at it, it’s time to rewrite some classics.  Consider how gender-free thinking can improve on Shakespeare: “As it was valiant, I honour it.  But as it was ambitious, I slew it."  Or, “Having nothing, nothing can it lose.”

And what about that ragingly sexist Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our its brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all its are created equal.”

The time for gender-free language has come.  Remember ... it warned you.



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