Pronoun use

I have blogged a few times about the use of language and how it affects and shapes society. No where is this more important than the use of gendered pronouns. Now, I am all for non-gender pronouns but society does not seem to be embracing the use of zie and hir. I really hate it when writers try to avoid the use of gendered pronouns by using plural forms. These uses are not grammatically correct and leave the reader (or listener) confused as far as I am concerned.

The default, not surprisingly, is usally to use the male form. Most things you read (particularly non-fiction) where gender is not important to the material the male pronoun is generally used. Some writers try and say he/she or s/he or him/her etc but most do not. This has important consequences. The constant use of the male pronoun marginalizes women and renders them invisible. I can only imagine what medical text books are like. It is not surprising that the use of male pronouns wound render women and their different medical needs and realities invisible. Most medications are not routinely tested on women who have very different chemical and hormonal makeups. In the same way that children are not ‘little adults’ women are not men.

I am currently reading an amazing book: “In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” by Dr. Gabor Mate. He is a doctor in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver which has one of the highest rates of drug addiction, HIV and Hepatitis C infection in Canada. The stories are compelling and sad and Dr. Mate provides a very interesting and instructive view of addiction – including his own. What is unique about his writing is his use of pronouns. The first part of the book is specific stories of patients he has treated and he uses appropriate gendered pronouns. In the parts of the book that are instructive, in which he explains the pysiology of addiction, he alternates male and female pronouns. I was completely struck by this feature of his writing. At first I wondered why it seemed that he was only using the female pronoun when in fact men are also drug addicts. Everytime I saw a female pronoun in these pages it jumped out at me. So then I went out of my way to notice if he used male pronouns. It seems that he uses both equally.

I think it is sad that we are so used to male pronouns that the use of the female, in equal parts, is so noticeable that one wonders if the author is using male pronouns at all. It speaks to how pervasive the male gaze is even with women and feminists. My hope is that more authors will choose to use both male and female pronouns equally.

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Comments (6)