Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pronoun Referents: do they belong in the "real" world?

An interesting development is going on in higher academics that soon, if not already, will be bleeding over into the business world. Have you experienced the new social development of personal pronoun referents? Referents are the words one uses to refer back to someone else being either talked to, about, or quoting. Usually gender determines what we automatically call someone. If someone is named Laura and is clearly wearing lipstick and a dress with bust line, we would say /she/. If a person is named George and he clearly has a masculine figure and sporting facial hair, we would say /he/. However, in this gender bender craze, American society is currently undergoing, this is no longer considered politically correct. At first it seems bizarre and then on second glance, it becomes problematic. How do we know what to call someone if we are not allowed to go by visually apparent gender?  Apparently the new protocol is when one writes an email or letter, they sign it with their name and then in parenthesis, they write their pronoun referent preference. For example:

June Narber (prefers she, her, hers, herself)

This strategy is the most sensible way of clearly up confusion but the next phase is even more baffling. There are among us those who do not identify as male or female. They prefer to be referenced as (they, them, themselves). Grammatically this induces a crisis in terms of how we write formal letters, newsletters within a company, or even a simple press release. For example, "Mrs. Terry Smith requests your presence at their reception. They appreciate the interest." When referencing a single person, male, female, or an it, how on earth can we in, even the most barbaric grammatical structure, use /they/ to describe one?  I think that /they/ was chosen as it sound less strange than /it/. But in fact, if someone is not male or female, they are indeed an /it/. If they consider themselves gender fluid being both male and female, are they still an /it/? Have they merged and become a /they/? 

This new development in the ever striving cultural phenomena of trying to cater to a minority of a minority, is going to create absolute confusion. Perhaps gender is something that can be deleted from language but I don't see how that can be done without erasing the very identity of who we are as a people both present tense and past tense. Can you imagine when this segment of society demands that gender neutral terms be applied to our ancestors, the founding fathers, or any historical figure? It is going to be a maddening insane world.

What can we do? We have to do as we are told within our academic and business sectors or we are  not going to be employable. My first suggestion is that we avoid using pronoun referents when at all possible and simply refer to individuals by their last names and/or their title. This may sound cold and impersonal, but I for one prefer someone to call me Narber than a they. And if calling me a she bothers someone, I again would prefer they just repeat my name numerous times within a document than to use the much dreaded word /she/.  But what are we to do when we are asked every time we sign up for a web site, a credit card, an application, or a hundred other things, to check our gender? We are given two choices; male/female  or man/woman. 

Has American reached such an identity crises with their religiously driven gender roles that people feel a need to stop calling themselves female or male? Would it not be simpler if we just stopped stereotyping males and females? Does your office still expect secretaries to be female and fetch coffee? Do you have a preference to work on an all male team?  Are dress codes enforced for women but not men at work with such rules as high heals for women and neutral stockings? Take just a few minutes and read through your company's employee handbook. Are there gender related behavioral expectations? Does sexism have a silent presence in your company with all front desk people being young, pretty, and slender blondes? Are your upper managers suave pre 50 year old men who know how to dress well and sport hip hair cuts? Image is one thing but age and gender preferences for certain jobs may have been the start of this new personal pronoun referent craze.

What we do in our personal lives is well, personal.  If Mr. Smith wants to sing soprano while wearing high heels, a girdle, and a sequined Las Vegas showgirl outfit on his (her) (their) own time, is that any one's business? The problem is when these alternative lifestyles bleed over into the real working world. Minorities have freedom to be as minority as they so desire in the United States. However, there still exists a majority (and I'm going to state probably in the upward 80 percentile) who think the terms male/female and he/she are sufficient for referring to their fellow human beings.

Why are people SO OBSESSED with gender? While I bemoan the ridiculous ideas many churches tout (skirts two inches below the knee, no female scientists, no makeup, girls belong at home pregnant, no female corporate leaders),   I, at no time, have ever doubted I'm female. I'm reminded every month when my period starts. I'm reminded every time I put on a bra. I know this is a fact as I comb my long black hair and apply makeup as I desire to look my best as my skin slowly shows my age. However, when I go to work, when I meet clients or students, or when I  just walk in to a store, my gender is meaningless to any one except me. Well it should be. 

I think humanity has just obsessed over what lies between our legs too much over the centuries and now in the final modern age, this obsession has gone whacko. Some don't want to be anything or desire to be what genetically has been denied them. 

My final thoughts on this unexpected topic that has been weighing  on my mind today, are these: a) let's get sexism out of the work place by having the same dress code for every one; b) let's remove the gender check box on every application on the planet (except doctor forms as they need to know gender for medical checkups etc), c) let's try to focus on goals and objectives, not what we want to be called. 

Have you experienced this insanity? If so, drop me a note at