The Use of Gender Pronouns in the 21st Century

by / 1 Comment / 170 View / January 24, 2015

There is no denying it: we are living in a different age than our parents. When this generation’s parents were our age, there was no talk about the Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. There was no open dialogue about birth control, STDs, and safe sex. Yes, the roots were forming then, but we are light years ahead of where our moms and dads were at eighteen. Open dialogue about controversial issues is something a lot of us petition for; we yearn for discussion within our campuses and groups of friends to educate ourselves on topics that are important to our peers.

One such topic that is gaining prevalence is gender pronoun choices. Many people—even college students – still scratch their heads when that phrase arises in conversation. Pronoun, in case you need a reminder, is a word that takes the place of a noun. These pronouns are assigned gender: he or she. There is also the neutral pronoun they. However, many of times we just assume someone identifies as the pronoun that matches their physical appearance – after all, that’s what we were taught to do in middle school English class. With powerful testimonies today about the exclusiveness of gender pronouns and how they alienate those who feel like they do not fit a specific one, it is easy to feel lost and resigned about the concept. This is not the way to solve the issue. While many of us do not feel the need to clarify the gender pronouns we use and prefer, some may feel that they have suffered because of assumption all of their lives. This must change.

You may be asking yourself, what exactly is a preferred gender pronoun? According to GSafe (the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools), A preferred gender pronoun, or PGP, is simply the pronoun or set of pronouns that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about that individual.” This is an important concept for communities to begin to understand, especially college campuses. Integrating preferred pronouns into every day life may be difficult for some, as mentioned, for what we learned about pronouns in middle school has stuck in our minds. If a friend confronts you and tells you they wish to be referred to using different pronoun than before, you must be supportive of this decision. It is important to be inclusive of all people, especially your friends. Ask she/he/they for gentle reminders if you forget about the transition and even inquire about proper ways to approach pronoun uses in the future. Chances are it is these friends who will help guide you and educate you about different pronouns. Many student groups will ask for preferred pronouns at the beginnings of meetings in order to ensure inclusiveness. Going to these meetings can help further your understanding on how to regularly use these pronouns.

Do professors need to ask a student which gender pronoun they prefer when they call the roll on the first day of class? Perhaps explicitly doing so would violate some students’ privacy, but at the same time, it is unfair to those who prefer pronouns that are not necessarily assigned to them. Unfortunately, many professors are older and not as accustomed to the change in pronoun usage. Is it a student’s responsibility to clarify? This is a question that cannot be easily answered. Student organizations throughout college campuses could be a potential resource to educate staff and administration about the importance of inclusivity. The shift for older community members may be confusing, but it is an essential one.

So talk to your friends. Clarify your PGP if you have felt crushed by the assumed gender pronoun assigned to you. There is never any harm in speaking up, but being tactful is the most important thing. Listen and never assume. Go to new student groups and talk about your own PGP. Be inclusive and learn from your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to learn something new about this twenty-first-century vernacular because it is not going away, nor should it. As Steven Petrow, a writer for The Washington Post, said in an article about learning to use PGPs, “Language is about respect and we should all do our best to recognize how people wish to be identified.” This is not our parents’ world anymore; we need to learn to communicate with our peers in the way they choose to be addressed.

  • Mind

    Many people are moving away from PGP and towards just “pronoun” because preferred gender pronoun implies that it’s a choice for others to call you that, whereas cis people just get “pronouns”.