Language change cannot be forced

Recently, the University of Sussex released a list of guidelines regarding gender language in official contexts.

It includes the demand that all participants in meetings state their preferred pronouns even when known. This is not the way to accomodate those of us who use gender-neutral language. Rather, it will increase the stigma against them by forcing people who feel that their gender is obvious to state their preferred language. The people who use gender-neutral language- the nonbinaries, the abolitionists, the nonconformists- are a small minority to begin with. Most peoples’ gender can be inferred immediately by their dress, sex characteristics and other nuances, even in this day and age when gender-neutral clothing is the order of the day. Six-foot-five bearded men in lumberjack shirts saying “my name is Dave, my pronouns are he, him and his” is verging on the ridiculous and this is coming from someone who is a strong advocate for GNL.

Furthermore, the guidelines also state that somebody whose gender is not known must be referred to as “they”. This is not only a commonly-accepted practice in English that most adhere to to begin with, but the wording is ripe for taking things even further. If Dave, the six-foot-five bearded lumberjack, doesn’t state his pronouns are we to refer to him as “they”? Even I would find that difficult- I do believe that all people will be referred to by gender-neutral language in the future, but forcing it straight into action as seen here ensures that GNL will not be accepted by the mainstream for a while, possibly even years. We have seen that things which were seen as “PC gone mad” years ago are now accepted because they required time. Besides, I have stated before that singular they, while gramatically correct at least in British English, can be ambiguous and I prefer the alternative (specifically designed to sound natural) se.

The takeaway is that forcing people to state their pronouns and take extra care not to infer a persons’ gender even when they are explicitly male or female is not only the antithesis of progressiveism, but it can be detrimental to those who genuinely prefer gender-neutral language. It ensures that GNL will be pooh-poohed by the average Joes in the street for a long time to come.

It’s a shame really.


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