Sunday, October 10, 2004

Changing pronouns 

I've long been accustomed to writing 'her' when writing about an unspecified subject in my work. For a while I went through a period of making all my unfavourable subjects male and all my favourable ones female, partly to see if anyone noticed. Admitting prejudices, I tend to be dismissive of the views of someone who continues simply to write 'he', 'him' or 'his', unless they're damn fine views otherwise (which I could appropriate for my own ends).

But using simply female pronouns doesn't seem much better. More enlightened, yes, but not satisfactory. 'His or her' is clunky, and 'they'/'them'/'their' is ungrammatical. So what's one to do? The temptation would be to create new terms for the purpose of each piece of work - 'sie' is one I've seen used by trans sites, presumably taken from German - but this is in turn alienating to the reader, and would go against my own intent to persuade. After all, a writer, even/particularly one who wants to change our normative culture, must operate within that culture's language, simply to be persuasive ('every revolutionary... is obliged to march backward into battle').

So 'she' or 'she or he' would seem to be the way to go, but the choice isn't easy, since on the one hand I might get dismissed as an overly strident feminist (fine by me, yes, but not when I want to succeed) and on the other I might get dismissed as a coward (fence-sitting doesn't do too well, either). We're too tied down we are by gender boundaries, since we can't begin to operate in mainstream discourse without using them, and without using one or the other in particular. The subjects in my head are mostly male, so they've crossed genders as soon as I put them on the page, and that's probably why I think about these things more often than most, and about twenty years too late. But that's probably not particularly normal...

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