Remember how your English teacher with a very refined lexicon and accent introduced you all to a term called Pronoun. You would have heard how pronouns are known as a group of words that are substitutes for nouns or noun phrases. He, she, they, them, mine, his, hers, etc are some of the personal pronouns that we use.
But let me take you to a very specific part of this grammatical syntax, the selection of pronouns used when addressing a singular person in a third-person point of view.
If we were to look at the options we have, one is quick to realize that these pronouns have a gender implication. Guess what? They are often in binaries with “he” referring to a male and she referring to a female. If the above statement doesn’t make any sense to you and if you are perplexed about the identification of gender in binaries, then my friend we need to have a bit of conversation about the basics of biological sex and gender identity.
As we know, biological sex is the sex assigned to an individual at birth which is based on their anatomy (the genitalia) and the chromosome composition. This is contrary to the idea of Gender, as it is a social construct that’s rooted in the belief systems of the majority.
It’s not too late to understand that, unlike biological sex, gender isn’t binary (male/female) but exists in a spectrum where people can either be a part of the spectrum or sometimes even out of it. For example, a non-binary individual does not identify with the binary, ie, male or female. Similarly, some people identify with multiple genders. Hence, due to all these factors, binary pronouns are problematic as it assumes the gender identity of a person in terms of male or female, thereby, being blind towards the existence of the gender spectrum.
In the past few years, pronouns have evolved from being binary to a more inclusive one. We call this revamped edition – The gender pronouns. Though there hasn’t been any change in the terms used, it is in the idea and the understanding of the term that we base our thoughts on. Having set the foundation, let us see why gender pronouns are important.
Why we think gender pronouns are important
Though the assumption of the genders might sound simple, it does have a long-term impact on the individuals and can thereby trigger their emotions. Though many of us have identified ourselves to be in or out of the spectrum, the journey to that isn’t linear and could come with various traumas. By using the right terms and addressing the other person with their preferred pronouns, we show respect to our fellow human beings. More than that, we are a step closer to fostering an inclusive environment.
What Not To Do
Assuming the gender pronouns
Assuming another person’s gender pronoun is no less than a sin. Assumptions are mostly based on physical appearances and behaviours. We end up being lenient towards the age-old gender constructs that are expressed in binaries. A mispronounced pronoun not only has a logical impact but can also take a toll on the mental health of the other person. On this note, we would also like to mention that the assumption of gender is also associated with the primarily binary fashion standards. Clothing has nothing to do with one’s gender and that’s a topic for another article!
Being intimidatingly inquisitive about the other person’s gender
Though asking one’s gender pronouns is appreciated by many, being inquisitive about it in an intimidating way can have a negative impact. We should have an understanding that people function differently and the majoritarian rule doesn’t apply in most cases. While there are people who are willing to share their gender pronouns, not everyone might be comfortable sharing it with another person. The relationship with the other person, purpose, and various other reasons could be a factor too. It is always better to ask if the person is willing to share their gender pronouns before you ask them their pronouns.
Not apologizing after having used the wrong pronoun
Yes, human beings can make mistakes but, at the same time, we should apologize if the mistake is from our side. As most of us are used to generic pronouns, it’s difficult to make a sudden shift from it. The years of conditioning and habit is a hard thing to break but nevertheless, it isn’t impossible. The best thing to do after you mispronounce the other person’s pronoun is to apologize. Not only is it a basic act of taking account of your mistakes but also it’s a way of making sure that the other person is valued.
What To Do
Introduce yourself with your own pronouns
Introducing yourself to the other person with your pronouns is the easiest way to set a positive and inclusive environment. Not only does this creates an awareness that the communication is on the same level but also wards away the awkwardness in sharing the pronouns for the other person.
Use the right pronouns
The very first step to using the right pronoun is to ask the other person about their preferred pronouns. But hold on, this doesn’t mean that you invade their privacy by being creepy and intimidating. Set a comfortable environment and always ask if they are willing to share their pronouns before you make haste.
Understand the different pronouns and practice to avoid any mishaps
She/her, He/Him, They/Them are the pronouns that many are aware of. Is this list exhaustive? Absolutely not. There are various other pronouns used for the different gender identities of the spectrum (in and out) and there is a high chance that the list might get updated in the coming years. In order to avoid any mishaps, one can always practice using the various gender pronouns available. Though it might look like a hefty task, it is always better to change with the evolving times.
As always, the list of the dos and don’t’s are not exhaustive. We hope that this friendly conversation has enlightened you with some basic understanding of gender pronouns. We are all ears to hear your take on the subject.