they/them as singular pronouns is not a new phenomenon. However, as the
discussion on pronouns becomes more normalized, people question the need for a
She/Her. These pronouns are used every day. However, as people who identify
outside of the gender binary are recognized, the use of they/them has been scrutinized.
Some may call this additional pronoun “confusing” or “grammatically incorrect,”
but is that really the case?
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 as far back as 1375.
they/them pronouns is a way of respecting others. The pronouns are needed for
people who identify outside the gender binary or who are uncomfortable using
he/him or she/her.
to Dr. Valerie Hennings, the effort put in by using they/them pronouns is a way
of accurately, and respectfully, communicating. They are essential to
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
has been this push to have the singular they accepted because we’ve had this
binary.” said Dr. Hennings, “This inaccurate binary.”
called the binary “hierarchal.” She explained it sets the man as the default,
which is a problem for those who are not male. They/them pronouns, however,
break away from that binary. “What’s important,” said Hennings, “is trying to
be respectful of using the pronouns an individual requests.”
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.
AP stylebook, the “bible” on editing in journalism, had updated to all the use
of they/them in 2017, yet the article had blatantly ignored it. Dye saw the
article as disrespecting non-binary identities.
Brenda Crawford said, “Respecting gender identity pronouns was something that
was taught to [psychologists] back in the 90s.” Gender identity and pronouns
has been a part of counseling psychology for 25 years, she continued.
said using an individual’s chosen name and pronouns is a simple change, as
opposed to large social change. The language used to address someone is an easy
was to show respect.
then, are people resistant to this needed, respectful way of communicating?
Crawford said it is a matter of adjusting to change. The use of singular
they/them falls outside of some comfort zones. Also, there are beliefs about
gender that add to the resistance.
example of such resistance is illustrated in the opinion piece by Madeline Fry
of the Washington Examiner. “Using the pronoun that corresponds
to someone’s biological sex is not something-phobic or a form of hate speech.
Not every request for accommodation is reasonable,” said Fry.
all it takes is a little practice and effort, according to Crawford. Is such a
request really unreasonable? Crawford said no. Remembering they/them pronouns
just takes conscious effort, like learning kid’s names in a class.
they/them pronouns are a step in the right direction for gender equality, said
Enloe is a senior psychology major at Morningside College. She is the president
of Gender Undone, a student group on campus that focuses on issues that impact
men, women, and member of the LGBTQ community.
situation often decides what gender is given to an unspecified person,” said Enloe,
“If you’re talking about a CEO, he is used because it’s a male-dominated profession.”
the gender-neutral pronouns is one way to reduce male dominance, Enloe explained.
Recognizing the need for they/them pronouns is the first step to understanding their benefit to communication, respect, and equality.