Which twin has the nuance?

Arwa Mahdawi at the Guardian raises the burning question of pronouns.

Little attention used to be paid to pronouns. In recent years, however, they have become a cornerstone of the culture wars.

It’s all been such a mistake. It should have been prepositions that became a cornerstone of the culture wars. We could argue over whether “in” is patriarchal, whether “with” is heteronormative, whether “for” is socialist.

Pronoun preferences are a favourite joke among unimaginative reactionaries who use them as proof that “snowflake millennials” just want to feel special.

Meaning, people who make pronouns a cornerstone of the culture wars are imaginative? I don’t see it, myself. I think the pronoun wars are peculiarly dull and empty, and not imaginative at all.

Meanwhile, pronoun introductions have become an established feature of some progressive spaces and university campuses. Many view this as a positive step towards a more nuanced understanding of gender. As Darius Hickman, a 23-year-old non-binary poet in New York says, these introductions mean people who don’t conform to traditional views of binary gender don’t feel alienated.

But you see that isn’t a more nuanced understanding of gender. It’s the opposite. Darius Hickman’s claiming to be non-binary positions other people as binary, in other words as conforming “to traditional views of binary gender,” in other words as less special than he is. That’s not nuanced, it’s self-promoting. A more nuanced understanding of gender would involve realizing that nobody conforms 100% to traditional views of binary gender, and remembering that feminists have been quarreling with traditional views of binary gender for more than half a century. Darius’s view of himself as more special than most people should not be mistaken for a more nuanced understanding of gender.

“Relying on clocking people’s gender based on appearances is harmful, especially since some people – oftentimes non-binary folks – can happen to look strictly binary, and a simple pronoun check makes things easier for everyone, including folks whose gender isn’t easy to tell.”

Maybe there could be a law? Like the yellow star law? Everybody has to carry either a purse or a gun or a unicorn, so that we can clock everybody’s gender at a glance – wouldn’t that solve it?

Also, as I keep pointing out, memorizing special pronouns for a bunch of strangers in no way makes things easier.

Mahdawi gets there too, which is a relief.

I should probably note that although I identify as a Progressive Lesbian™, the pressure of pronoun introductions often makes me feel uncomfortable. Actively announcing myself as a she/her makes it seem like I’m making my entire identity about my gender, which feels regressive.

Further, while pronoun introductions are supposed to be about recognizing that gender is complex, it sometimes seems as though they – paradoxically – reinforce gender binaries. Announcing yourself as a “she”, “he” or “they” would appear to buy into the notion that a “he” is completely different from a “she” – and if you don’t subscribe to traditional gender roles you should identify yourself as a “they”.

Quite so. That’s not more nuanced, it’s less nuanced. A lot less.

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