Pronoun Duels

It is irritating to hear, on those occasions when I’m having a casual conversation, the silly protest of one who believes my language has not been gender inclusive.  This is especially bothersome when I’m addressing a group and say something like, “Each person should place his initial at the top of the page.” – only to hear the niggling retort, “…and ‘her’ initial.”  These minions of the language police would have me sacrifice the beautiful, liquid flow of language for the truncating agenda of gender politics.
The Standard English language-rule governing the use of pronouns commands that the pronoun agree with its antecedent in gender.  In the example above, the gender of the antecedent (person) is unknown.  When this occurs the accepted response, for centuries, has been to select the masculine form. 
Here is another example: “Each rescue worker should bring his emergency equipment with him so that he can take care of himself in a crisis.”  The antecedent is ‘rescue worker’.  Because the gender of the antecedent is unknown (or mixed), the rule declares we use the default masculine pronoun.  Those who favour political correctness would have me say instead, “Each rescue worker should bring his or her emergency equipment with him or her so that he or she can take care of himself or herself in a crisis.”  This asinine insistence hinders communication, both spoken and written.  It slows the swift give-and-take of ideas delivered in comfort and echoes the tensions of a gender war that favours dogma over beauty and common sense.
I agree that aspects of our language could be renovated to recognize women’s legitimate complaints, but I cannot imagine writing an essay, let alone giving a spoken presentation, in the style demanded by the ideologues of correctness.  Languages evolve; their forms unfold; usage emerges over time, from the popular expression of a people.  When change is mandated through fear of being censured, the idiom of the people is torn, and both the language and the community of speakers suffer.
An alternative form of addressing gender inclusiveness has been to alternate the number of times one uses the masculine and feminine pronouns.  But this too is ridiculous.  I can imagine some stickler keeping track of the number of times I have used a pronoun, and taking me to task for it.
There is another solution to this confounded problem – especially in a conversation.  The answer is for a male to always use the masculine, and a female the feminine pronoun.  The person who begins the thread of a conversation is the one whom we follow, whether we are male or female.  If a female begins with, “Each person should place ‘her’ initial at the top of the page.”  The male would reply, “Yes, I believe ‘she’ should.”  And they would continue conversation around that issue in the feminine form.  In fact I have heard of people writing essays and dissertations entirely within the pronoun of their sex.
I like the tangible, solid, anchoring influence of tradition, custom and standard usage.  I easily spot spelling mistakes in newspapers, chuckle at malapropisms, and scoff at political doublespeak.  I admit that I like what has been tried, tested and true for centuries – especially in language.  But I am also willing to entertain, with some reservation, what is being born.  I may not feel immediately comfortable with the neonate, but if he is not too unfamiliar; if he seems to bear some promise, I will listen – even if the promise of new life is seen emerging from the advancing death of an older form – like the Adverb: a conversation for another time.


5 thoughts on “Pronoun Duels

  1. Basically, the alternating gender is used for things like text books or academic writing, alternated between ‘exercises’ or parts not sentences, in the same way you might swap John with Mary, eg. Mary has four eggs, she drops one, how many does she have?
    It’s silly to write something fairly informal with ‘his or her’ everywhere, but otherwise, why should ‘men’ get all the fun just because people (men) are used to seeing the ‘default’ masculine form?

  2. Yzed – When you are adressing a wo/man in casual conversation, it is very important that you use the correct pronoun for him/her so that s/he won’t get his/her panties/boxers in a twist and bash you over the head with his/her purse/backpack.

    What’s so complicated about that?


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