Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Pronoun Wars

You might not pay it much mind, but the pronoun wars are alive and well. They began when feminists decided that it was bad to use generic masculine pronouns, as in, “the doctor and his patient,” or “the nurse and her patient.” Apparently, these pronouns were invented to oppress women and to keep them in subordinate positions in the medical professions.

So, in a first attempt to rectify the gender divisions, writers chose to replace generic masculine pronouns with the following: “the doctor and his or her patient,” or “the nurse and his or her patient.”

Of course, this is awkward… when it doesn’t sound stupid. In the interest of concision, culture warriors decided that in a feminized and womanified world, we should simply use the generic feminine pronoun. As in “the doctor and her patient,”  and “the nurse and her patient.” Admittedly the latter sounds a bit sexist, but people who are arrogant enough to think that they can control language are not going to bother.

Evidently, the generic feminine did not work very well. Simply put, the generic masculine pronoun includes women while the generically feminine pronoun excludes men. Using grammatically incorrect pronouns makes you sound like an idiot.

What to do?

Well, the great minds of political correctness decided that we must use the singular “they” in all sentences that suggest gender specificity. That gives us: “the doctor and their patient” and “the nurse and their patient.” Naturally, this makes you sound illiterate, but, hey, it’s worth the sacrifice to be politically correct.

How illiterate does this make you? Allow me to offer a sentence written by a fine writer. I understand that some of you do not like Andrew Sullivan’s writings, but, agree or disagree, he is a serious writer and a serious thinker.

Imagine my surprise when I ran across this paragraph in his new column about religion and politics. The "she" in the first sentence is New York’s senatorial embarrassment, Kirsten Gillibrand:

By 2015, she invited Emma Sulkowicz to the State of the Union, a person who alleged they had been raped at Columbia University, despite Columbia’s, the NYPD’s, and the district attorney general’s investigations ending without a finding of rape, indeed finding “a lack of reasonable suspicion.” On social media, Sulkowicz was known as “Mattress Girl,” carrying an extra-long twin around the campus to exemplify the burden they felt (Sulkowicz identifies as nonbinary) and to pressure Columbia into expelling her alleged rapist.

Did you notice how stupid it sounds: a person who alleges that “they” had been raped. Since the antecedent of "they" cannot be the singular person, the sentence has the person declaring that a group of people had been raped.

The second time that Sullivan indulges this grammatical error he adds that Emma Sulkowicz, known as “Mattress Girl” identifies herself as non-binary. She must also identify herself as non-singular, because she prefers the supposedly singular “they.” Why would she not opt for "it?" As for the "Mattress Girl" locution why haven’t all politically correct folk now changed it to Mattress Person or even Mattress Persons.

Accommodating the personal preferences and quasi-delusional beliefs of each individual you write about is obviously an impossible task. Asking each person what his or her or its pronoun preferences are is not economical. You will probably decide not to write about them at all.

Worse yet, if you tailor different pronouns to the personal preferences or even the heartfelt convictions of different individuals you are not speaking a human language. You are using the kinds of passwords that gain you entry into a cult, or even a speakeasy.

Since Sullivan’s article concerns the growth of political cults in the absence of religion, he would have done better to risk the wrath of Sulkowicz and to respect English grammar.

As you know, taxation without representation is tyranny. But, isn’t it also tyrannical to force people to speak a specialized language, to use code phrases that affirm membership in a cult, instead of teaching them to speak English?


Freddo said...

"On social media, Sulkowicz was known as “Mattress Girl,” carrying an extra-long twin around the campus to exemplify the burden they felt (Sulkowicz identifies as nonbinary) and to pressure Columbia into expelling her alleged rapist."

lol, even Sullivan (and his editors) cannot keep up the charade for an entire sentence, or he would have written "their alleged rapist". I have no doubt he is familiar with's_greengrocer, but he seems determined to ignore the lesson.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point... thanks for noticing.

sestamibi said...

It's a little more complicated than that. Exclusive use of feminine pronouns is required for reference to positions of leadership, authority, power and expertise. Exclusive use of masculine pronouns is still required for reference to criminals, miscreants, and Republicans.

Sam L. said...

I was going to post that, too, but I'm way too late. I'll get over my disappointment.

Sam L. said...

The pronoun wars have become the con-noun wars. (I say it's SPINACH, and I won't eat it!)