let's fix the pronoun problem

Joshua Lutes huzzak at gmail.com
Tue May 27 08:18:54 MDT 2008

On Mon, May 26, 2008 at 10:11 PM, Levi Pearson <levi at cold.org> wrote:
> Well, using the male pronoun universally when the sex of the
> antecedent is unknown *is* clearly sexist, but if you don't care if
> you're perceived that way, then go ahead and do it.  As I said, it's a
> style guide rule, not a hard and fast grammar rule.  If using 'he'
> universally wasn't perceived as a problem by a lot of people, we
> wouldn't have had this discussion to begin with.

I went to a meeting of the BYU college democrats where a man said, among
other things, that he was really put off when he heard one of his colleagues
say that they were a native Utahn.  He wanted to say something like, "Oh
yeah?  What tribe do you belong to?"  Because, if you say that you are a
native of some place you can only mean one thing even if there are several
definitions listed of the word.  Also, the one thing that you mean is the
most offensive that the speaker can conceive of for that word even if the
meaning you intended was perfectly innocent and devoid of bad intent.

I don't think that using the male personal pronoun when gender remains
unknown is inherently sexist.  I mean, I obviously don't speak for everyone
in the world as, I guess, others may.  It seems that too often people take
offense when none is intended simply because they can.  We should probably
give people the benefit of the doubt and not assume that they intend to be
offensive (intention is actually just a better reason to not be offended).

Are girls really offended by the use of "he" when a thing could be an "it"
or a "she"?  If they are then they deserve to be.  My sister is in a
psychology of gender class.  I'll have to ask her opinion.  Sorry.  My
sibling is in a psychology of gender class.  I'll have to ask his or her
opinion.  (I had to put one of them first, and let's face it, boys are
better than girls.)


PS - The gender of the colleague from the first paragraph is known to me.  I
prefer to use the third person plural to refer to the third person
singular.  In this case it got rid of too many male pronouns and made the
antecedents clearer.

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