An article in the New York Times talks about those silly pronoun-sharing circles that people have to do now in meetings with social justice types and at universities. It’s now considered a “privilege” if you use the correct pronouns for your sex.
A quick note about “privilege,” before I get to the article. Privilege is the flip side of oppression, and it occurs when one group of people has material power over another group of people. Men, as a group, have privilege over women, as a group, because they are at the top of the sex hierarchy, they have material power over women, and they have the ability to extract resources from us. White people, as a group, also have privilege over people of colour, as a group, because we have material power to enact violence against people of colour without facing any repercussions, and we also have the ability to extract resources from them. Oppression happens on a structural level. It’s worked into the system.
People who use the correct pronouns for their sex do not have material power, as a group, over people who do not use the correct pronouns for their sex. People who understand the English language and human reproductive anatomy do not have any power to extract resources from people who invent identities for themselves. This situation does not constitute privilege and oppression, it’s merely a bunch of whiners who are upset that people don’t want to play a silly game with them. Universities should be teaching what privilege and oppression actually are, not confusing people over a very important social issue and turning it into something silly.
Moving right along to the article.
“At some colleges and universities, it’s common for students to introduce themselves, whether in class or in student group meetings, by name, followed by a string of pronouns. “I’m Lizzie; she/her/hers,” for example. I find the exercise discomfiting, but not because I don’t want to know the students’ pronouns. It’s because this ice-breaking ritual, in my experience, is easy only for those for whom the answer is obvious. It can “out” or isolate others, particularly those who are still considering their gender or who have just begun to transition.
When we go around the room in class, students visibly react when they hear that someone they thought looked male goes by female pronouns or vice versa. This happened in my class a few years back. All eyes fell upon this person as if to ask, “If you identify as female, why don’t you try to look the part?” My heart went out to this student, who later told me that she was just beginning to think about her transition and hadn’t yet started to publicly change anything about herself, other than her name. She looked like any other guy in the class, except she had adopted a traditionally female name and used female pronouns on this day when asked.”
You know why people visibly react when a dude declares himself to be female? Because that’s preposterous! Men aren’t women, and everybody knows this. When a man says that he’s a woman, everyone can tell he’s lying. It’s frankly silly to say something that is really obviously not true and expect people to believe it. If a man goes through a process of medically transitioning, then he’s at least demonstrating that he believes his own story, but when a fully-intact male who is making no attempt at looking feminine calls himself a woman, that adds an extra layer of silliness to his claim.
“This is the kind of student for whom we might think the pronoun exercise would be perfect. Once she identified herself, no one would accidentally mis-gender her in class. But in fact, as the student explained to me later, having to say her pronouns in a room full of strangers terrified her. She would have preferred to state her female name and leave it at that. If we had done traditional introductions, some of the students would have put two and two together and assumed she was transitioning; others might have thought she had an unusual name for a guy; some might have thought she was gender queer and comfortable with a male appearance and a female name; and yet others would have shrugged their shoulders and thought, “Whatever.”
With this experience in mind, I decided to adopt a compromise solution for this semester: I explained my concerns and said that students should list their pronouns along with their names only if they were so inclined. I also said that as a class we will refer to one another by our first names (community building) or the pronoun “they” (grammar evolves!). This strategy seemed to work. Half of the students disclosed their pronouns and the other half just introduced themselves in the standard way. No one became the object of scrutiny.”
Yes, language evolves, but human reproductive anatomy hasn’t evolved at all. We still come in two sexes, male and female, and reproduce by combining a sperm from the male with an egg from the female. Everyone knows this and we know how to identify the two sexes. Even when a tiny minority of people with a particular mental illness force everyone to redefine language, the actual reality of our bodies doesn’t go away.
The special snowflakes who want people to refer to them by their subjective internal feelings rather than their actual sex are the ones who started making everyone do these pronoun introductions, and it was supposed to be for their ‘safety,’ but now they are being made ‘unsafe’ by the exact thing they asked for! You can never please these people. They will be ‘unsafe’ forever, because no matter what you do to try to make them happy, they will find something else to feel ‘unsafe’ over.
I haven’t had to declare my pronouns in any meetings, but some of my friends have. We’ve been discussing how to respond to this as gender abolitionist feminists. I think if I were ever asked this, I’d say that I do not identify with a gender but since my sex is female my pronouns are also female. And rest assured that if ever someone who is unambiguously male or female declares themselves to be the opposite sex, despite the actual evidence, I’m going to be one of those ‘unsafe’ people who rolls her eyes.