Sometimes, being a feminist is a pain. Especially when choosing gender pronouns. In a sentence like, A writer will have greatest success if [he? she?] avoids passive voice, which pronoun should I use? In the early days of the women’s movement, some authors switched to “she.” I thought it clever at first, and then decided it was pandering as “she” no more embraces the entire class of humanity than “he.”
The tradition, of course, has been to apply the male pronoun to express the universal. The Elements of Style recommends it, for a start. But as I’ve said, technically it doesn’t satisfy. For a time, I used he/she as a form of reference, but found it awkward and decided to go back to “he.” But my feminist side kept niggling, so, over time, I resorted to a number of devices to avoid gender references at all. One of them was to use to passive voice, which is deadly.
Active voice: A writer needs to express his emotions.
Passive Voice: Emotions need to be expressed by the writer.
Recently, a reader sent me a compendium of ways to skirt the pronoun gender issue. They came from the blog: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are some of the suggestions: A) use the neutral pronoun “one,” as in, “One needs to be accountable for one’s actions.” A warning the blogger fails to give is — be wary of mixing pronouns. Here’s a delicious example of ambiguity: One needs to be accountable for your actions.
Referring to a person’s backgrounds is a well-worn way to avoid gender pronouns. ” The blogger outlined several dos and don’ts.” Or, where possible, eliminate the pronoun all together. “The doctor needs to be accountable for the action.” Second person, “you,” is another option. It also has the advantage of sounding less stuffy than “one.” For further examples, go to the website or put your little grey cells to work.
To be honest, I miss the simplicity of patriarchal pronouns. Chairman not chairperson, mankind not man-and-woman-kind. But the principal of equality is at stake and so I struggle each time I write. Thank heavens English doesn’t follow the rules of Latin languages which require articles like ”the” to be gender defined as well — as in “la” for the feminine and “le” for the masculine.
What I want to know is, if people can be transgender, why can’t all pronouns be, too?