This page is not intended as an "official HCoop policy or position." Rather, it is an attempt by some of the members to call attention to issues of how our language reflects and reproduces gender norms that exist in our society. In addition, since some members disagree with the notes in this page, dissenters may voice their opinions on this page as well.
1. Gender-Neutral Language
For many in the Cooperative, language is not merely a tool that we use, but one which reproduces the structures of power in our society. Gender inequality, as one of these social forms of power, is also reproduced through language. Because of this, many members of the Cooperative feel strongly that we consider carefully how gender bias creeps into our everyday languages, including the communication between members of the Cooperative and externally.
1.1. Tips on Writing in a Gender-Neutral Style
Generally, many of the arguments for gender-neutral language have led those who advocate its use to prefer gender-neutral instead of gender-specific pronouns when discussing a person whose gender is unknown, when the person prefers to not categorize themself as belonging to a specific gender, or when a party is of mixed gender. See the wikipedia article below for more information.
Previous comments from this page have been archived at the page HistoricalGenderNeutralLanguage for clarity of the views presented on this section of the site.
For example, in the English language, many who try to write in a gender-neutral manner prefer the use of "their" instead of "his" or "her".
[took out text that referred to old text that was removed] ... that said, I think gender-neutral language is a fine thing to strive for, and "they" is way more palatable than alternatives like "ze" or "he or she".
Clinton, do you have any examples of alternating pronouns every paragraph? Because that sounds like it would be extremely difficult to read. -- JeremyPenner
- "The programmer should make sure he calls free() after mallocing memory. ... ¶ The programmer is responsible for defining subclasses for her application." I don't like that style much myself, but it is far less jarring than seeing the disagreeing pronoun/verb case. I prefer the easy method of the author using his (or her) own gender.
Using 'their' is incorrect. 'He' is the unspecified gender pronoun in English. Alternating between male and female pronouns every paragraph is reasonable if one wishes, but using they/their is a sin against the English language. -- ClintonEbadi
I disagree, the English language has rare few "sins." Singular "their," while prescriptively "wrong," has a very long and wide history in the language. I don't care to write an HCoop style manual now, and we may or may not want this usage in "HCoop literature," but everyone is entitled to their opinion and it is more nuanced than simply "wrong." (see, e.g. http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html) It can be very difficult or awkward to write "correct" and concise documentation in standard English that is simultaneously gender-neutral. --NathanKennedy
- We should note that for some, alternating "he" and "she", or only using one is not adequate because it remains within the gender binary established by society, and refuses to recognize that one may not feel comfortable within these linguistic and social constructions, e.g., in the case of transgender individuals.
"He" is not an "unspecified gender pronoun", it is clearly tied to the cultural gendered distinctions that have been constructed. The idea that it is considered "gender-neutral" is precisely the mechanism by which it helps to maintain established power differentials in society. While I am not calling for a "style manual" or policy that determines how any member can use language, I feel strongly that we need to allow members to use language in a manner that they feel is appropriate, personally and politically. When possible, we should lean away from being "grammar police", and be in favor of editing our communications in such a way that it helps to deconstruct the gender binaries and hierarchies that plague our society.
'When possible, we should lean away from being "grammar police", and be in favor of editing our communications in such a way that it helps to deconstruct the subversive political ideas that plague our society.' --ClintonEbadi