A Lively Gathering
Avoiding Squalor

But I Am Not Androgynous

Let’s call everyone “they”: Gender-neutral language should be the norm, not the exception. 

So writes Silpa Kovvali, an exquisitely progressive she-person, in the pages of Salon

We are forced to… give in and refer to our co-workers, students and friends as “he” or “she.” The result is that our language caps our ability to be progressive in this realm, forces us to immediately characterise people as male or female.

Which is only accurate and expected practically all of the time. And so,

We ought to revert to the gender neutral “they” whenever gender is not explicitly relevant.

You see, Ms Kovvali believes that gendered pronouns and honorifics are an “outdated linguistic tic.” And not a useful, rather concise source of information, a signal of respect, and a way of clarifying who it is we’re talking about.

The effect of elevating gender’s importance is felt by the cis-gendered as well. None of us fit neatly or entirely into a traditional gender binary, with all the expectations of masculinity and femininity that these buckets entail. 

And yet despite this claim, and the somewhat random mention of buckets, almost all of us seem quite happy to be referred to as either male or female, as if it were in fact “relevant,” and the demand for gender-neutral pronouns remains, to say the least, a niche concern. I’d even venture to suggest that some of us might feel slighted by the wilful omission of – diminishing of – our respective maleness or femaleness. However, Ms Kovvali feels a need to inform those less enlightened, i.e., the rest of us, that,

The goal is greater inclusion… to be respectful to those we write about, and to be clear to our readers.

By risking affront on a daily basis and introducing a clumsy and needless ambiguity. Because vagueness is the new clarity.

Readers may wish to pause for a moment and think back to any recent discussion involving spouses, siblings, parents or children – anyone you know well – and then try repeating that conversation stripped of gender identifiers. Said out loud by actual people, about people we know, gender-neutral language tends to sound contrived and its connotations are unlikely to be flattering. And then imagine the effect of this modish neutering on popular culture - say, the quasi-pornographic romance novel: “They looked at them lustfully and reached for their buttons.” It would, I fear, be hard to keep track of the various theys involved. And a great literary genre would be rendered incomprehensible.

Ms Kovvali nonetheless insists,

Gender neutral language is a matter of clarity, and of accuracy. Perhaps radical is sensible in this realm as well.

That a tiny minority object to gendered pronouns, or pretend to object in the hope of seeming morally fashionable, is apparently grounds for the rest of us to be imposed upon, and possibly insulted, with a widespread and routine denial of our gender. It isn’t clear to me why un-gendering everyone is hugely preferable to the highly unlikely mis-gendering of one person, potentially, in theory. And much as I hate to be a bother, my “preferred pronouns” are masculine. Like almost all human beings, I am not alienated from my sex in psychologically hazardous ways. I am not of indeterminate gender. I am not a they.

Ms Kovvali is a “New York based writer who focuses on social and cultural criticism.” She “identifies as an Indian woman.” She was educated at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

Comments

David

It’s a devastating riposte, David. :-)

Well, if I’m right about the article being an exercise in class signalling and the mouthing of in-group pieties, then a substantive reply would be an unnecessary risk. The whole thing might come unravelled. And the point of the exercise – the signalling of class identifiers, of conformity - has already been done. Credentials have been aired. And it does seem to be about status – hence, presumably, the umbrage at my reference to the University of Pennsylvania, rather than the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which I’d imagine is thought more statusful.

I sometimes think of the signalling of ‘progressive’ piety as rather like being a teenage goth. The pose is of ostentatious non-conformity, while being utterly uniform. And quite silly.

fnord

....she studied at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, .........

David, I believe you misspelled 'infested'

WTP

Am I the only one who doesn't understand what is meant by “cunty maneuver” in this context? OTOH, I never went to Harvard or the Wharton School of Penn, so perhaps my vocabulary is somewhat limited.

David

The only definition I’m aware of is the obvious one, as in a bit of a cunt.

But remember, we mustn’t gender pronouns.

abacab

Hmmm. David being alledget to have made a "cunty manoeuvre"??? Isn't that rather an offensive presumption about our esteemed host???

David

Isn’t that rather an offensive presumption about our esteemed host???

[ Retires to fainting couch. ]

WTP

Ahh...I think it's the vernacular that's throwing me. Harvard and UP had me presuming American slang. Calling a guy a cunt or saying his behavior is in some way cunty, really doesn't compute in US slang, though such is rather common, IIRC, between guys in the UK...However didn't thing y'all said "bro", so...Repeating myself but obviously I'm simply not educated enough to grasp such highfalutin' elocution.

David

However didn't think y’all said “bro”

Oh dear lord, no. I doubt I could pull it off convincingly.

Rich Rostrom

You are not androgynous.

I am not plural.

Incidentally, here's a linguistic quirk I spotted yesterday. In French, the word femme means "woman", but also "wife"; there is no feminine counterpart to "mari". IOW, a woman is almost literally by definition attached to a man.

Also, the word fille means "daughter", but also "girl"; there is no feminine counterpart to "garçon".

JJM

"Incidentally, here's a linguistic quirk I spotted yesterday. In French, the word femme means 'woman', but also 'wife'; there is no feminine counterpart to 'mari'. IOW, a woman is almost literally by definition attached to a man."

However, there is époux/épouse (spouse) which is also quite commonly used.

The origin of "woman" is interesting. It started as Old English "wifman" ("woman human" - yes, that "wif" is the ancestor of "wife").

And if you like grammatical trivia, "wif" in Old English was neuter while any noun ending -man was always masculine. So the neuter noun for a "woman" was attached to "-man" to produce a masculine noun meaning "woman".

Got that?

(The German cognate of "wife" remains neuter - "das Weib".)

mojo

It's "that person" making a "genitalious manoeuvre", potty mouth.

jen

apparently Ms Kovvali has found the time to tell Twitter that I’m a “bro” making a “cunty manoeuvre.”

Wow. Apparently Harvard doesn't teach students intellectual honesty.

David

Apparently Harvard doesn’t teach students intellectual honesty.

I’m not entirely sure that intellectual honesty can be taught, insofar as it requires motivations that are often at odds with the signalling of leftist piety and thereby class status.

Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK

David, I'm surprised she called you "cunty" and a ""bro." Aren't those sex/gender-related terms? Talk about not walking the walk, Mx Kovvali is a...wait for it...hypocrite!

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