"Pronouns" neither inclusive, equitable or accommodating to diversity
Are we letting American Universities dictate Australian cultural norms?” #pronouns
On the topic of language, I was chatting to an Indian Australian woman, she found the push for the use of pronouns offensive as it was against her original culture’s norms.
Which gave me pause, I would imagine that applies to many others. In a place like Sydney, approximately 40% of the people come from other countries, cultures and are of many religions.
Not to mention the many different Australian Aboriginal cultures that have already had their cultures (yes, 290+ cultures, there is not just one) ravaged by Western traditions. Isn’t this again an onslaught by western culture conforming to traditional tendencies to homogenise expression? Insisting we conform to some new virtue signalling trend without the input from all Australians?
According to the LGBTQIA resource centre, there are at least an additional 50 pronouns for example instead of his, her or their you have cos, ens, eir, hir, yos, zir and ver. Instead of herself, you can have coself, enself, emself, hirself, yoself, zirself and verself.
You can end up with a sentence like; “Ze reminded zirself to pick up zir umbrella before going outside”. Actually, this language contradicts principles of Accessibility that the Australian government has been pushing through all its departments. Relevant principles of accessibility revolve around readability, semantics, and meaningful information. Accessibility is specifically about the language of inclusion and this language is not inclusive of all.
I found some of this language inherently disrespectful to the wider Australian population, are men to be called AMAB/DMAB? Or women AFAB/DFAB? Why is the language of a tiny sector of the population used to define the wider population? How is that inclusive or respectful when the language that the wider population has for itself, is ignored?
I was curious where this new fad came from, I researched the card below. As I suspected it came out of a University department. The card above “came out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee LGBT Resource Centre in 2011 has been widely reproduced and distributed across the US.”
I’m guessing what happened, is some academic dude probably in Philosophy thought he’d be clever, with nothing better to do; writing a dumb blog post, which got picked up by someone else and that was put in a book or paper. From the look of the ‘words’ most likely the author/s were into D&D or did futuristic fantasy role play in his/her spare time. Language making or (appropriating from other cultures) is often a part of that.
I found somewhere that the discussion that led to this creation was that in trying to be inclusive of women and marginalised youth (not including those of different race, disability or religion though), is that even when people say ‘they’ for themselves – people think ‘male’.
Good intentions, I like it. But I don’t see how appearances are going to change that when the default setting of everything is male. (see Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez ) In other words, this was not designed to be a fix, for a deeper problem. It’s just a paint job continuing to hide a serious infection in a wood-like structure of inequality. So, it gives the appearance of doing good, without doing good at all.
So what is ‘inclusiveness’? ‘The quality of including many different types of people and treating them all fairly and equally.’ Awesome. On the 23rd October 2020 ‘Play by the Rules’ ran a panel discussion around Diversity and Inclusion in Sport, Dr Ben Gauntlett, (Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission) said: “In Australia, at the moment we really do have a segregated model for the treatment of people with disability, unfortunately, we have segregated education, we often have segregated workplaces, often we have segregated sports clubs.”
Dr Ben Gauntlett does wonderful work in the disability space. This segregated model, however, is a model my company rejects. We work with disadvantaged youth (18-22) across a range of mental and physical disadvantage; autism, bi-polar, high anxiety, migrants, poverty, gay, occasional trans, physical disabilities etc.
Each course, each class we run is a mixed bag of disadvantage. I don’t segregate those with Autism, out from those who have a history of suicide, high anxiety, live in poverty, etc. These problems are what knit our class of youth together. They all have an ‘identity’ or really more like a label stuck on them that impacts whom they’re seen to be and if they buy into those labels, limits what they’re capable of. They’re vulnerable but they learn they have each other, and though have different issues they are in the same boat.
Poor mental health for a lot of these kids is derived from an expectation of certainty in the world, and stress when they find that there is none.
They’re right, we work in conditions of uncertainty. So, in my company; Test-Ed one of many things we do is train them to ask questions to discuss and gain clarity around uncertainty and with that clarity effectively navigate their world. We ground our mental activity in facts, reality, truth, critical thinking, and attitudes of empathy and compassion towards each other as we fail often, learn, and succeed in a continually fast-changing world.
Words and the use of words are critical in the work I do. Words must reflect how things are or have been from the evidence we find in the material world. Words dealing in the future, which may seem nebulous are words around promises and agreements and the development of trust as I keep my word and they learn how to keep theirs. And the development of trust is key.
I checked with a few of these youth to find out how they feel about this new ‘language’. For those on the spectrum, in particular, it freaks them out, it’s very unsettling. For others it doesn’t make sense, it’s confusing.
My youth and I included are a percentage of people who do not fit the mold of whatever society thinks we should be. I know from the contribution of wonderful people from the tech’ and humanities space that most Australians want my people to be happy and not demeaned. They want us to live a decent life, a meaningful life. And I would say Australians are willing to make some accommodation, some public accommodation for everyone.
Ours is an organisation that is non-segregated and diverse in the area of marginalisation and disadvantage. These pronoun practices do not respect the principles of diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are about including all people, which means you poll and discuss these things in any society with all stakeholders, all involved, not have some new fad from predominantly American Universities dictate our cultural practices.
Two excellent articles on Pronouns: Why I won’t be putting pronouns in my bio