They/them pronouns are important in the discussion of language and gender.
He/His. She/Her. These pronouns are used every day. However, with growing recognition of those who identify outside of the gender binary, more and more people have begun to use the singular pronouns they/them. Some may call this additional pronoun “confusing” or “grammatically incorrect,” but is that really the case?
They/them pronouns are not a new social fad. Singular “they” is seen in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which solidifies its status as grammatical correct. According to Ian Sample of the Guardian, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun appears back as far as 1375. The language is not new. Yet, it may be on a bigger stage than it ever had been before.
Pop star Sam Smith announced their pronouns are they/them in September. With a well-known star using they/them pronouns, Tampa Bay Times writer Ashley Dye expected educational discussions on gender. What they got instead was an Associated Press article mis gendering Smith for its entirety.
Dye was frustrated. The AP stylebook had updated to all the use of they/them in 2017, yet the article had blatantly ignored it. Dye saw the article as a missed chance to educate cisgender individuals (people who identify as their birth gender) on gender.
The inclusion of they/them pronouns opens up the discussion of gender. According to Dr. Valerie Hennings, language and gender impact each other like a circle.
Dr. Hennings is an associate professor at Morningside College. She teaches the Gender studies course and is the faculty advisor of the student group Gender Undone. Dr. Hennings has a background in political science and women/gender studies.
“There has been this push to have the singular they accepted because we’ve had this binary.” said Dr. Hennings, “This inaccurate binary.”
She calls the binary “hierarchal.” She explains it sets the man as the default, which is a problem for those who do not fit into that category. The effort in acknowledging the assumptions about pronouns is an important step. The inclusion of they/them can curb those assumptions.
- Licensed Psychologist and health service provider
- Provides therapy
- Early graduate school, respecting pronouns was taught back in the 90s, engrained in counseling psychology for the better part of 25 years.
- Language impacts people on multiple levels, an easy way to show respect, easier change for individuals
- We can’t assume gender on what we see
- It’s important to practice, it’s about effort
Melanie Enloe is Thursday afternoon so I’ll add this later