Monday, August 26, 2013

Swedish Gets a New Pronoun / Gendermania!

I've long thought that it was weird that English has no non-sex-specific (ungendered? What's the term? "gender-neutral isn't right, despite the fact that people say it...) singular third-person personal pronoun. (Er...what the hell is 'one'? It seems nonspecific with respect to number in a way that 'he' and 'she' aren't...) It would sure make philosophy easier if we had one...

Sadly, all the proposed ones sound really, really stupid, and the people who push for them are frequently insufferable...  But that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be good to have such a word.

Well, turns out Sweden has introduced one.

I'm absolutely all for trying to take the edges off society's efforts to push gender onto people. It's a weird thing, all that... I mean, anyone who thinks that it's all going to go away has apparently never met any humans... It's not going away. There will always be some tendency of males to be more masculine and females to be more feminine. Assertions to the effect that it's all "socially constructed," as usual, fail to rise even to the level of falsehood; they're so multiply ambiguous and otherwise unclear to be rather closer to nonsense. Which is not to say that society doesn't push people to act differently on the basis of their sex...because, well, of course it does. But that claim is perfectly clear and intelligible..

Sadly, a fair number of people seem to overshoot that fairly modest and (according to me) reasonable position and become weird-ass anti-gender warriors:
The Green Party has even suggested placing "gender pedagogues" in every preschool in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, who can act as watchdogs. But of course toddlers cannot weigh arguments for and against linguistic interventions and they do not conceive of or analyze gender roles in the way that adults do.  
Ironically, in the effort to free Swedish children from so-called normative behavior, gender-neutral proponents are also subjecting them to a whole set of new rules and new norms as certain forms of play become taboo, language becomes regulated, and children's interactions and attitudes are closely observed by teachers. One Swedish school got ridof its toy cars because boys "gender-coded" them and ascribed the cars higher status than other toys. Another preschool removed "free playtime" from its schedule because, as a pedagogue at the school put it, when children play freely "stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed to bullying." And so every detail of children's interactions gets micromanaged by concerned adults, who end up problematizing minute aspects of children's lives, from how they form friendships to what games they play and what songs they sing.
What the hell, Sweden? "Gender pedagogues?" Big Sibling is watching you...

Leave it to the Swedish Greens to make the American Republicans look downright sane...

This is the sort of thing I'd rather leave to the culture to sort out, rather than having the government stick its oar in. In the U.S., anyway, we've made amazing progress with respect to this sort of thing in the last fifty years. Conservatives are right about some things, after all. Here is a case in which certain seeds have been planted, and we should (to mix metaphors) sit back and see how things evolve. If reasonable arguments get traction, I'd imagine that what we'll have in another fifty years is a society that is less prone to enforce arbitrary rules on people, including arbitrary rules of personal deportment, including arbitrary rules about how masculine or feminine one ought to be. Gender--masculinity and femininity--will never go away. Males and females will always cluster toward different ends of that spectrum. But we'll probably see less pressure on people to act in ways they don't necessarily find natural or aesthetically pleasing. We can do that a lot more reasonably and organically, however, without Big Sibling telling us what we can and can't say.

But...I do really wish someone could come up with a non-sex specific third-person singular pronoun that didn't sound stupid as hell...


Anonymous Franz said...

Just switch to grammatical gender, at least on a few words. Like boats are referred to as 'she', the moon as 'he' in Shakespear (if I'm not mistaken!), just agree 'person' to be feminine. My native tongue is Croatian and that's the case there ('ova osoba', not 'ovaj osoba'), same with German, Latin, Russian, the other languages I know. No reason for gender in language to be anthropocentric! It's an abstract notion.

2:01 AM  

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