For those who know me, it has always been my goal to move to Europe– specifically France — when I got my Bachelor’s Degree. Though as a cultural critic I’ve always considered the how difficult it would be for me to adapt to a new language, not to mention a gendered one.
Yet, this isn’t to say that English isn’t gendered too. As an English speaker grammatical gender manifests itself in our pronouns, adjectives and determiners. He, She, Him, Her. However, gendered language like he, she, him and her are remnants of Old English and not modern English. These tiny remnants rear their heads in words like “waitress” and “waiter” or “god” and “goddess.”
Modern English makes use of natural gender where in which some words are gender-neutral. For example, his “hair” is the same as her “hair,” with the only gendered word being the pronoun — however in French”hair” would be “cheveux,” a masculine word.
I’ve always considered the way in which language constantly evolves with the culture around it. English speakers are not new to neologism and every year new words are added to the dictionary; “dis” and has been in Oxford Dictionary for quite some time. Remember when it was solely a slang term?
Many Indo-European languages use grammatical gender for example: French, Spanish and Russian. These languages also use masculine words/phrases/etc as the default, which excludes women and is particularly sexist. Although, English can do this too: ever notice how a large group of men and women can be referred to as “guys?”
How archaic is it that as a woman I still have to identify whether I’m married -“Mrs.“-or single -“Miss” -on legal documents? Men can simply check that lone box “Mr.” and be on their way. That’s not a big deal. No, it is, because it reveals gender inequality: I’m either his -“Mrs.“- or mine –Miss.-, or both –Ms.-; while he – “Mr.” – is always his own.
But what about Mx.?
Mx. is a step in the right direction; It’s a gender neutral title used in British-English. It is one of few legal titles for non-binary people and can be found in the Oxford Dictionary. Find more title here: Gender Queeries
Pronouns like “They” are awesome too. I used “they” in my Doctor’s Notes Against Intolerance to make the work more accessible and gender-neutral. I actually had a gallery visitor identify the word as an error, to which I reminded them that “they” is commonly used as singular in the non-binary and trans community.
Therefore, it is not an error.
So in a culture that is working toward dismantling the system we call “gender” how will we customize one quarter of the world’s languages as well?
Undoubtedly, language makes a big difference. Respecting someone’s pronouns and using them is a symbol of change. Gender-neutral language is a great step toward gender-equality.