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, and to disseminate information that may help those who agree with the ideas in this page (if not the exact manner in which they have been articulated) to write in a manner that is more gender-neutral. In addition, since some members disagree with the ideas in this page, dissenters may voice their opinions on this page as well.
1. Reasons for Using 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 group of individuals is of mixed gender.
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". Despite claims of some that this is gramatically "wrong" when referring to a single subject, sites listed in the references section of this document point out that this usage of "their" has a long history that precedes many of the political reasons for the use of the term today.
Recently, many writers in the English language have tried to make their writing more gender-neutral by such techniques as alternating the use of "she" and "he" in their texts. However, it is important to note that by alternating the usage of "her" and "his" in writing, the traditional dichotomization of gender is still preserved. For many who feel displaced or otherwise uncomfortable about the discrete categories that have been constructed in societal discourse, it may be more comfortable to use the gender-neutral term "their", even to refer to a singular subject.
It should also be noted that the exclusive use of "his", while occasionally said to be "gender-neutral", is really not. Clearly, it is a product of a patriarchial society, and remains strongly tied to that tradition. Further, it is important to note how even claiming that "he" is gender-neutral has a tendency to naturalize our understanding of the concept, thereby giving it a certain sort of transcendental status. It is important to realize that the social understanding of "his" as a neutral term is a social creation, as is language itself, and therefore reflects the unequal relationships that we have developed in society.
While it is likely that the exact terms to be used in gender-neutral writing will remain in debate for a long time, there are some practices that seem to be favored, such as using "their" in place of "his" or "her". Many feel that this is an improvement even to the practice of alternating "his" or "her" in writing as it leaves space for people who feel marginalized by the binary categories of gender that exist in society (e.g., perhaps some transgender individuals who don't feel comfortable either as "men" or "women", as these cultural roles are often understood).
1.2. Arguments Against Gender-Neutral Language
Some members have expressed that they disagreed with elements on this page. This section attempts to articulate these points where people disagree with gender-neutral language in general, or some of the ways that implementation of gender-neutral language have been suggested.
Some have mentioned that the use of "their" in cases where it refers to a singular subject a "sin against the English language". Other members argue that this kind of monopoly on "correct" grammar should not be maintained, and have suggested that this kind of grammar "policing" is elitist and only technically correct if one believes in a mythical purity of language. Of course, it is true that in many academic institutions and journals, for example, that there is resistance to using alternative grammatical constructs in order to work towards progressive social goals. In response to this point, advocates of progressive constructs that are truly gender-neutral often suggest that our receptiveness to certain words or phrases is socially conditioned as well, and that with time we can push towards more popular acceptance of linguistic constructs which is not objectionable to many people on the basis of gender marginalization and inequality.
ClintonEbadi wrote that, "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." Clinton, in his statement, paraphrases what a previous author on the wiki said, and clearly puts gender-neutral language in the category of "subversive language", which he suggests that we avoid, at least in the case of gender issues. Since gender-neutral language is intended to work against things such as patriarchy and the prescriptive roles of gender that most of Western society still has deeply embedded in it, and because Clinton seems to be against using likely tools, such as language, to work against gender inequality, it seems that he may actually be in favor of conserving these forms of inequality in society. Since it is unlikely that this is what Clinton really intended to say, further explication of this point would be helpful.
1.3. Historical versions of this page
Previous comments from this page have been archived at the page HistoricalGenderNeutralLanguage for clarity of the ideas presented on this section of the site.