This is my first principle :
I prefer to focus on intelligent life as individuals. However, it is clear that classifications into groups is important when seeking to address societial issues that harm a group. I am on record with my opinion that the current ‘pronoun wars‘ are a misguided and failed strategy. I understand why it may seem like an expedient to advocate that the preferred gender of an individual should determine the use of the pronouns ‘he, him, his’ or ‘she, her, hers’. However, that is so incredibly short-sighted that it makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. This is only partially due to the doomed Sisyphean struggle required to convince or coerce others to use these pronouns. I think there are much more important issues at play.
There was an opportunity to introduce gender neutral pronouns and it has been squandered. Gender neutral pronouns could finesse the issue. Even people who might be opposed, resistant, or slow to reconcile with the concerns of non-binary gender issues, might consider a set of gender neutral pronouns. There are a lot of positives : first of all being, you can’t get it wrong, even for mis-gendered cis-gender people! So many have experienced the embarassment of mis-gendering a long-haired cis boy/man or short-haired cis girl/woman. Those are minor issues compared to those faced by the trans community, but still, they may be more familiar issues to many people who don’t encounter trans individuals on a regular basis.
If I had been in charge, I would have consulted language experts for their guidance. I presume they could have come up with something better than “they, them, theirs”. In my case, I would rather be referred to by my actual name than a pronoun — SAY MY NAME. I think that xie, xer, xers or variants of the like are completely awkard and doomed to failure. Still, I think that language experts should get a chance to make their studied recommendation.
I have been thinking lately about words like “attracted” or “drawn” and the subtle shift in responsibility that occurs when these words are used in a transaction between adults. This falls into the categories of Woke++, or Beyond Woke, or MeToo++. The following definition is actually very direct about who or what is doing the attracting.
Attract [verb] : to engage the attention of
– The park’s natural wonders attract many tourists.
– The blackbird puts on a colorful display in its attempt to attract a mate.Merriam-Webster
I will focus on the use of words by cis-gender men with respect to cis-gender women, which is the scenario I am most familiar with. I think some of this treatise might be adaptable to other situations. I’m not an English major, so some of this will be rough draft level, but I think a professional could probably restate the argument in more precise terms easily.
If a man says “I am attracted to you.” to a woman, what is really being said? Let’s examine the word “attracted.” Who is doing the attracting? Isn’t this simple statement shifting the responsibility for the attraction to the woman? If a piece of iron is attracted to a magnet, isn’t the magnet responsible for the attracting? This seems to me to be a valid issue in our use of language. How does a man take ownership for his feelings in this case?
It’s the same with the word “drawn”. “I feel drawn to you.” Who is doing the drawing? Examine the following words. Who is taking the action? Who is being acted upon?
Synonyms & Near Synonyms for attractedMerriam-Webster
drew, enticed, interested, allured, bewitched, captivated, charmed, enchanted, fascinated, carried away, dazzled, enraptured, enthralled, entranced, ravished, transported, hypnotized, mesmerized, absorbed, bemused, busied, caught up, engrossed, enthralled, enwrapped, gripped, immersed, intrigued, involved, occupied, biased (or biassed), colored, inspired, stirred, engaged, involved, affected, impacted, impressed, influenced, moved, reached, struck, swayed, told (on), touched
It seems to me that much of our language used in situations of potential friendship or romance is subtly shifting responsibility.
- “You captivate me.”
- “I am beguiled by you.”
- “You intrigue me.”
Think about a man approaching a woman and saying “I find you to be incredibly attractive!” The woman in any situation would be perfectly within her rights to say “Fuck off. I didn’t attract anyone. You don’t know me. Don’t assume anything about me. And did I say fuck off? Fuck off!“
Anyway, I think there is an issue here. I don’t have any more profound thoughts in the moment. I am still confused about the proper language to use. I think we need to focus on language where the initiator takes responsibility for their thoughts and feelings while assuming nothing of the individual they are addressing.
J Mark Morris : Owensboro : Kentucky
p.s., breathtaking is another word that shifts the initiation action to the woman and where the man doesn’t take ownership linguistically. Just like attractive, etc. I wonder if scholars recognize how insidious and patriarchal this is?
Let’s imagine a man trying to take ownership for his reactions :
I found it very difficult to breathe when you were in the elevator with me. I wasn’t expecting to meet someone so stunning.cis-man example
There it is again! Stunning. Who is stunning and who is being stunned? Again, the linguistics transfer the action to the woman. This is fascinating. There must be scholarly work on this topic, but I wouldn’t even know where to look.
What are the set of words where a man expresses something to a woman and the man actually takes ownership linguistically? Are there any? Maybe this is something men learned in caveman days — the power of presupposition — and it is baked into the language by now. Let’s all keep an eye out for more examples and compare notes.
J Mark Morris : Boston : Massachusetts