Bigsley the Oaf

He/She/It

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 23, 2011

You know what’s weird? The fact that we’re uncomfortable referring to ungendered/ambiguously-gendered entities as “it.”

Example:

Let your friend know that it can stay at my place when it is in town.

Somehow this is dehumanizing?

But doesn’t the fact that this somehow feels dehumanizing mean that we see sex/gender as intrinsic to humanity? So that a non-man, non-woman is non-human? This is very strange to me. There seem to be multiple conflicting systems at play, here.

1. Progressives are the main source of contention w/r/t use of “he” as the gender-neutral/gender-ambiguous English pronoun.

2. Progressives maintain (though perhaps not explicitly) that sex/gender is unrelated to humanity. You can be whatever you want – gay, straight, cis, trans, androgynous, inter-sex, a-sexual, etc. But you’re still human. You can still be human, even if you’re uninterested in sex/unrelated to sex.

3. But somehow leaving out the gender (“it”) is dehumanizing?

It doesn’t have to do with animacy. We can refer to animate (asexual) creatures as “it” – bacteria, plants, protozoa, viruses, archaea, etc. We also refer to ambiguously-sexed animals as “it” – e.g. “Look at that horse over there – it’s beautiful!”

So we have a conflicting set of intuitions/emotions here. Feel what it’s like when I refer to your mother as “it” – “Would it like to eat now?” It feels like I’m calling your mother an animal! But somehow assigning her a gender (“she”) makes her human?

So we have two transitions:

Reference: Neutral -> Gendered = humanizing

Actuality: Gendered -> Neutral = no effect

The reason that referring to a human as “it” feels dehumanizing has to do with the history of seeing non-gendered creatures as somehow less. Like – oh, your mother isn’t a horse! she isn’t an “it!” she is a SHE, she has a gender! she is more than a mere creature!

Then shouldn’t referring to people as “it” be the first step in undoing the history which put gender above non-gender?

Just another example of fools not willing to be radical enough to find the pure solution.

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2 Responses

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  1. emmajolin said, on November 29, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    In languages where objects also have gender do you think that the un-gendered “it” equivalent feels less dehumanizing?

    • zarvoc said, on December 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      It’s maybe worth remembering that in some languages this choice isn’t possible. Like French — there is no “it”.

      I think the resistance to using “it” is based on the idea that “it” is never able to perform actions, only receive them. It’s dehumanizing because it removes agency. Maybe this goes back to phrases like “It is raining” or “It is time to act.” What is raining? What is time to act? Meaningless questions. “It” has a history of meaning action without conscious choice. (In French the relevant phrase is “Il pleut” — he rains.)

      Some people I know genderize inanimate objects. These people are always men and their objects are always technological in origin and always female (guitars, boats, cars). These objects always have a function that could be described in terms of a performance: they are acted upon. I feel like this reflects a certain deep chauvinism.


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