Personal pronouns and their importance.
BY MEGHAN BEERY ‘21
Sal went to the store. She bought bananas.
Sam traveled over break. He went to Florida.
I wonder who that person is. They look tired.
Personal pronouns are present in our speech every single day. They indicate who we’re talking about, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Unlike other languages, English offers three standard options: male singular (he), female singular (she) and plural (they).
Recently, as society’s understanding of gender identity has widened, pronouns have also developed to become more inclusive. “They” is often used by the non-binary, transgender and gender-fluid populations, among others. In those instances, “they” is used to refer to a single person. “Ze/zie” is also non-binary. There are many others, depending on each person’s personal preference.
With the new pronouns comes a need for increased understanding of what pronouns are and how we can use them to respect others. Because the bounds of gender identity and expression have evolved, assuming someone’s personal pronouns can be extremely harmful and demeaning. Pronouns such as “he” and “she” come with certain expectations attached. When a person does not feel that they agree with those expectations, they may choose to go by gender neutral pronouns.
Using correct pronouns is both a matter of respect and decency. Incorrectly gendering someone is akin to calling your friend the wrong name, repeatedly. It can make your friend feel invalidated and dismissed. The same is true of using the wrong pronoun.
As humans, no one is bound to correctly address everyone all the time, but the most important rule is respect. Respect the other person and make an effort to know their pronouns. Respect yourself and allow room to grow, correct your mistakes and move on.
Movements on social media are working to increase the visibility of personal pronouns, making it easier to correctly gender acquaintances. Users are encouraged to publicize their personal pronouns in their bios or Zoom usernames. Publicized pronouns condition people to look behind physical appearances and avoid assumptions. A simple “she/her” or “they/them” tag in someone’s email line can eliminate confusion and foster acceptance.
Correct and visible pronouns are the key to a more inclusive world. It is the job of everyone to 1.) respect other’s personal pronouns, and 2.) contribute to open discussion about their own pronouns.