Monday, February 25, 2013
"His" and "her" incorrect
The writer below thinks "gender neutral" language still does not go far enough
A bill that aims to change the language of law to be completely gender-neutral passed out of the Washington state Senate Friday and will move on to the House of Representatives. Supporters of the bill expect it to pass. Gender neutrality in language — and in general — is an idea that does not receive much acknowledgement and I’m pleased that the Legislature has taken up the issue.
That said, the legislation fails to acknowledge people who do not identify within the gender binary — that is, those who do not identify as staunchly a “man” or a “woman.” For example, genderqueer is a non-normative expression of gender identity that varies depending on how individuals identify. It can serve as an umbrella term or an identity itself. Some genderqueer people do not identify as a man or a woman (they consider themselves agender), while others might consider themselves third-gendered, or other-gendered. These are just examples and do not fully illustrate the complexities of gender and the diversity of gender nonconforming people. For further reading, here is a website that discusses the term genderqueer.
The bill is riddled with references to “his or her” this, “he or she” that. Written law would be more inclusive if it simply used words like “individual” or “person” instead. I’m not suggesting gendered words in connection with identity be removed from culture entirely, as people often find it critical to their greater identities. I simply hope for a more inclusive approach to the law — and perhaps, a more thoughtful engagement with each other. We avoid conflict, unintended disrespect and exclusion when we don’t make assumptions about things like preferred gender pronouns.
It would be a lot simpler if everybody were referred to by their biological sex. They can tack on modifiers as they like: "Gay male" etc.