Friday, July 8, 2011
Grammar v. Feminism?!
The two things that I defend most passionately on a daily basis are, irrefutably, feminism and proper grammar usage. Feminism is much more based on opinions, though, than grammar. Feminism is an ideological movement, intrinsically based upon opinions, for each person to agree or disagree with. Grammar is much more straightforward; its foundation is composed of rules of the English language that we, as a society, created, have evolved and now accept as fact. Because of the endless differences between two of my obsessions, I never thought there would be a conflict between them, but alas, there is.
Now, as I learned formally in freshman English, the pronoun and antecedent in a sentence must agree. (eg: her bike, his shirt, their toys.) This didn't used to be much of a problem, but with many more people attempting to avoid sexism, it is.
How could this be?!
Well, if a statement was being proposed in formal writing, the writer would be talking, most likely, about one individual, eg: "One must try hard to achieve _____ goal." This is where the problem lies. "One" is, quite obviously, one, but the majority of the time (at least for high school essay writers), "their" fills in the blank.
Their, although catering to both of the traditional genders, is NOT singular. It is plural. It would only be used accurately if it was "Therefore, people must be aware of their use of grammar."
We are told, then, to just get it over with and use he. We can only use one of the gendered pronouns, and of course, based on the traditon of patriarchy, the masculine one is the one formally accepted to be "right." But as a fervid advocate of grammar and the equality of the sexes... this just will not do. I will not just use he, because I am referring to a human being, gender unspecified.
Some people, as a rebuttal for this intrinsic antiquated sexism, use her exclusively, something which I've done in an essay or two. I lucked out having a teacher open to the idea, though; not all teachers are. The most common correct option is his or her or her or his, which can become tiresome if repeated frequently. My favorite is his/her; it's as if the two genders of the pronouns cancel each other out.
What we need is a gender neutral, singular pronoun. And apparently, I've recently learned, there is one, most popular in queer circles: hir. I've only seen it mentioned once, I believe in either Full Frontal Feminism or Female Chauvinist Pigs, getting a mention for a page or two. It's based on ze, a completely gender neutral personal pronoun for he/she. It was originated for those who don't identify with either the male or female gender, and it can encompass any gender identity. If it could make its way into contemporary society, this conundrum could be solved. However, it has not. And the scary question is: can it? The regulations of the English language have been around for centuries; can we really expect a change now? Will teachers and professors- most importantly, early elementary school teachers- be willing to change their traditions for the sake of gender?
I'm not really sure how I feel about this- will ze and hir work? Could our language evolve to be truly equal? This is just one example of many in which our language contains antiquated biases. Feel free to comment with your opinions :)
*I apologize for assuming that there are only two genders for parts of this post. I attempted to be completely inclusive, but grammar obviously isn't.
**All of this is applicable to the he/she debacle, too; it's essentually the same thing, just his/her are possessive pronouns and he/she are personal pronouns.
***I'm sure I've got grammar mistakes here too- my grammar is just as fallible as anything else, despite my love for it.