Do you recall the first time you saw an email address or a web URL associated with a program on television?
The general public first became aware of the internet with the launch of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. I remember a year or so after that seeing a news program on TV where the announcers were talking about the internet and email. As part of this, they were debating the meaning of the ‘@’ symbol and how one should pronounce it in conversation.
I also remember how, for the next couple of years, people on these shows would explain the meaning of the email and web addresses shown at the bottom of the screen.
How things have changed. I just had a root around the internet and found the original video, which was from an NBC News program circa 1994/1995.
As it says in the blurb for this video: “Go back in time with these NBC News archive clips from 1994 and 1995 when the ‘World Wide Web’ and Internet were mere mysteries. See what Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel, Tom Brokaw, and Bill Gates had to say so many years ago.”
The reason I mention this here is that someone just contacted me about something on LinkedIn. Let’s call him “John Doe.” The thing that caused me to pause for a moment was that their username was actually shown as “John Doe (he/him/his).”
Although I am, of course, conversant with the concept, this is the first time I’ve actually seen someone express their preferred gender pronouns in this way.
Just to make sure we’re all tap-dancing to the same drum beat, we use pronouns to refer to ourselves or other people without specifying them by name. As opposed to saying, “Max took Max’s pet walrus for a swim,” for example, we can use the possessive case of the singular personal pronoun to say “Max took his pet walrus for a swim.” (We can but hope that Max doesn’t name his pet walrus Max, and that the walrus doesn’t have a treasured toy called Max, otherwise things could quickly become complicated.)
As a society, we tend to make assumptions about which pronouns to use. If someone appears to be male, we would typically use pronouns like he, him, and his; if someone appears to be female, we would typically use pronouns like she, her, and hers.
“Gender expression” refers to the way a person appears in terms of gender. By comparison, “gender identity” refers to the way a person identifies internally in terms of gender. Sometimes these two aspects of that person don’t match up. In this case, the person in question may express which set of pronouns they prefer the rest of us to use, where these pronouns may include the gender-neutral they, them, and their in the case of someone who might not identify as being either male or female.
My wife (Gina the Gorgeous) is of the opinion that I bumble along through life without having a clue as to what’s going on around me. To be honest, this isn’t far from the truth. Although I may appear to be paying attention to what someone is saying — including grunting at appropriate junctures (it’s a skill developed over the years) — oftentimes my mind drifts away to visions of Max’s World, where the butterflies are brighter, the birds sing sweeter, the flowers smell nicer, and the beer runs plentiful and cold.
Personally, I think we live in a world that is rife with confusion and it’s all too easy to say the wrong thing or to offend someone unintentionally, so I appreciate any “heads-up” people care to give me, including alerting me to their preferred personal pronouns. What say you?
“Pronoun trouble” at about 50 seconds into this classic bit:
Isn’t it amazing that, for almost every situation, Bugs Bunny has something relevant to say 🙂
Sadly, I tend to take after Daffy…
I live in a town with a university. According to a friend of mine who works there, this method of indicating preferred personal pronouns has been in use at the university for a couple years now to the point where now it’s almost expected in the signature line of your email.
Fortunately, my gender identity and gender expression all match with the implied gender of my name. If things were otherwise, I might want to indicate my preferences.
On the other hand, I’m inclined toward the philosophy embodied by “Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late to dinner.” …
When I was young, I was comfortable with my gender — as far as I knew “boys were boys” and “girls were girls” — my teenage-angst-years were hard enough as it was — I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for folks whose gender expression and gender identity are at odds with each other. I like to think it’s getting better for everyone as more people gain a greater understanding, but I fear it’s not getting better fast enough.
The whole gender thing raises all sorts of other topics. For example, in English when you say something like “my grandmother” you have to qualify it by saying “on my mother’s (or father’s) side.” Similarly, if you say “my uncle,” no one knows if it’s your father’s or mother’s brother we are talking about. In some (maybe all) of the Scandinavian languages, they have different words for these things. When I’m writing, I have to work around saying things like “The engineer uses his application to…” using “his or her” or rewording the sentence — it would make life a lot simpler to have one word to cover both (all) genders, but “its” doesn’t fit the bill LOL. And then there’s the informational aspect of it all. The difference between being introduced to someone called “Miss Smith” or “Mrs Smith” conveys information — but I also understand people calling themselves “Ms Smith” because they don’t see why anyone else should be privy to that information. As always, I’m left dazed and confused LOL
I think in writing that the use of the gender neutral they, them, their pronouns should be acceptable when you are talking about people or engineers in general. You and I just need to retrain our minds to do it.
As for the Miss/Mrs/Ms, I am of the opinion that in most cases my marital status is not relevant so why should I divulge it. especially seeing as how the standard honorific for men (Mr) does NOT convey that information.
As always I sit on both sides of the fence — on the one hand I like to have as much information as possible, and Miss vs Mrs provides this — and I certainly agree that if we keep this, then there should be the same thing for Mr (but I’m not sure what). On the other hand, I also agree that it’s no one else’s business. On the other hand, it’s nice to be able to have the choice to introduce yourself (or be introduced) as Miss, Mrs, or Ms.
When you grow up with something, it’s hard to change. I grew up with terms like Chairman, Policeman, Fireman, and so forth. When they started using things like “Chairwoman” and “Chairperson” and just “Chair” I rebelled (quietly, inside), but now I’m quite happy to use “Chairperson” — also I really think it’s a good thing to NOT associate sex with jobs and roles and things — how many little girls in the past thought that “policeman” implied that women couldn’t join the force?
As you say Max, it is hard to move away from you childhood conditioning. When I was young we had a riddle that went something like this.
A child is involved in an accident and is rushed to hospital needing surgery. The child is wheeled into the operating room and the surgeon looks down and says” I can’t operate. This is my child.” The surgeon was not that child’s father, so how could this be?
I would hope today that most people could easily answer that the surgeon was the mother, but it was a a tough question in the 1950s and 1960s.
I still have issues with presumed genders in professions and my daughter has no problem in pointing them out to me.
Things are getting better year by year… but it’s a slow haul.