Why Gender Neutral Pronouns are Important
Why? The language we use represents the way we think and impacts the people surrounding us. There are many people who do not identify themselves as inherently male or female. Constantly reminding them of the contemporary gender distinctions will adversely affect their psyche and make them feel alienated. Gender neutral terms should be used more frequently out of a sign of respect and inclusiveness.
Gender neutrality has been a topic of conversation since the 1970s. The term took prominence from debates over parenting processes and even public toilets. It’s now associated with gender equality between men, women, lesbian, gay, transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid rights.
Many languages, such as Mandarin, do not assign gender to nouns. They already have a gender-neutral form to use. But other languages have noticeable distinctions. While some choose to associate themselves with she, her and hers or he, him and his, many others stick to using they, them, and theirs as singular pronouns. Others have brought forth the use of ze, hir, and hirs.
Using these gender neutral pronouns is important for non-binary individuals because they feel more inclusive this way. It’s hard to foretell their genders from appearance only. The best way to be supportive is by asking for their preferred gender pronouns. So, how do you talk about being non-binary or address those who are without having this conversation? In many ways, in fact.
How do we use gender neutral terms? A good starting place is to swap out gender reinforcing terms with gender neutral ones:
● Use “They” instead of “He” or “She.”
Many languages do not categorize their nouns or pronouns with gender. The English language does, though. You don’t even have to distinguish between genders until the masculine or feminine pronouns come in.
So, it’s best to use “they” in these situations. As a rule of thumb, if you are unsure, ask for their preferred pronouns. A gender neutral person will appreciate you acknowledging the subject and asking for their preference. You can ask by casually and simply asking “Pronouns? Any preference?”
● Use “Mx” instead of “Mr,” “Ms,” “Mrs” or “Miss.”
“Mx” is the gender-neutral title for those who do not identify as a binary gender or those who simply do not want to be classified as any gender. It’s pronounced as “mix.” One way this can be used is in formal written communication such as wedding invitations.
● Use “Parent,” “Sibling,” and “Children”
Pronouns and titles aren’t the only things that have masculine or feminine labels. Family members do too. You can easily substitute brother and sister with sibling. Similarly, you can use "parent" instead of "mother" or "father" and "child" or "kid" instead of "son" or "daughter". These gender neutral titles don't make you any less important or mean anything different, and they are more inclusive and less assuming.
● Use gender-neutral forms for occupation
Not only does it alienate non-binary individuals, it’s also extremely sexist! Policemen are now called police officers, while firemen are called firefighters. Instead of mailman, use mail carrier. Instead of steward or steward, use flight attendant. Instead of chairman, use chairperson.
In recent years, society has been shifting toward adopting more gender inclusive and neutral language. It has been a slow change, but big ships turn slowly. We welcome the long overdue changes and encourage everyone to do their part in using alternatives to gendered terms in everyday conversations.