Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gender Neutral Language Modifications

I write a ton about language, because I feel strongly that the words we use both influence and are influenced by our reality. In other words, language is important.

I love words. I love writing. I love vocabulary. I love crafting an argument...but beyond that I am someone who would never bemoan "political correctness" or accuse someone of being the "PC police." If you can afford someone a modicum of respect by simply shifting a few words, why wouldn't you?

So in this realm, I'm almost always thinking about how the words I use can be more inclusive. Lately, one thing in particular has been bugging me, as I quickly mused in a post on Tumblr last night:
I’ve become really attuned to unnecessarily gendered language lately like, “access to abortion is so important for women.” Or a commercial I saw recently about factory work appreciation (I can’t for the life of me remember the product but) the sentence it ended with was something like “in appreciation of hard working American men and women.” 
Why can’t we just say “access to abortion is so important” or “in appreciation of hard working Americans.” First and foremost above all, these options are more inclusive to trans and non binary people, but also the alternatives I suggested just sound like stronger statements to me. So, like, be more efficient AND include everyone all at the same time. Why not? 
Almost every time I hear someone say a sentence that includes "men and women" I find myself wondering, WHY? It's such a long way of saying people, and since people, as a word exists and it runs little risk of bugging anyone, why not just go with that? For the same reasoning, I love terms like police officer, fire fighter, mail carrier, etc.

I would encourage everyone to think about this for a while and try to move away from describing groups with any unnecessarily gendered terminology. As I've mentioned numerous times before, feminism is one of the biggest offenders of this when we constantly frame reproductive/family planning services as necessary for women and thereby erase people who need these things and don't ID as female.

The false gender binary is taught from an early age, especially in how we describe and work with students in classrooms. As someone who was a substitute for a while, I had to conform to the structure the teachers had in place for their kids. In elementaries that was almost always walking in two lines in the hallway, one line of boys and one line of girls. I couldn't control that, but I could refrain from saying "boys and girls!" when I called them to attention. It was a small, easy shift to something totally neutral like, "I need everyone's eyes on me." Teachers could and should think about the implicit messages sent. Hallway lines can be arranged by last name instead of gender. Students can be called students, kids, everybody, etc. without reference to the false binary.

Again, these are small things...micro shifts that, if enough people think about them can, over time, reshape how we view and approach things.

Just some mid week musings.

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