Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Can We Please Agree?

I found that snark, and it didn’t take long, and, do you know what? I found it pretty close to home, too. In fact, one way or another, I’ve been meaning to tackle this one for a while.

I’m not going to name the person I happen to be about to embarrass, because everybody’s guilty of this, she just happened to give me a handy example, and, what’s more, she used it as a title, so it was front and centre when I was scratching around for the subject for this morning’s post.

I like this woman, and I like her blog, and I mean her no offence. This is what she wrote:

‘When was the last time you saw a kid out enjoying themselves on their bike?’ 

Do you see it? 


Honestly, that doesn’t surprise me, because this has been the standard format for gender neutral sentences.

I’m a feminist and I have been for as long as I can remember. I’m actually old enough, for heaven’s sake, to remember genuinely grotesque gender inequality, and I still get cross when I see the stupidity perpetrated by all sorts of so-called adults on little boys and girls, corralling them into gender stereotyped roles.

But here’s the thing: I draw the line when it comes to crippling our language, our grammar and teaching correct English usage, in favour of producing politically correct, gender neutral expressions. Apart from anything else, it makes us look bloody stupid to any readers of English as a second language. Our books, not to mention papers, magazines and the web, and not to mention virtually all written or printed material, are littered with hideous errors in the name of political correctness, and it’s beginning to drive me insane.

Take another look at that sentence. Here... I’ll type it for you, again, or copy and paste it, at least:

‘When was the last time you saw a kid out enjoying themselves on their bike?’ 

When was it ok to make a horrible single/plural agreement just because we were afraid of sexism in single agreements? Just pick a gender and be done with it for heaven’s sake.

This sentence should, more properly read:

‘When was the last time you saw a kid out enjoying himself on his bike?’

Of course, if you preferred, you might use herself/her. At a pinch, if you consider gender to be totally redundant you might consider itself/its, although that would almost certainly not be my choice.

If you wanted to get around it entirely, and it’s not actually terribly difficult to do, you might pluralise the kids and go with this:

‘When was the last time you saw kids out enjoying themselves on their bikes?’

What I’m suggesting is that all that’s really required is a little thought. Sadly, we gave up thinking when we decided that gender was a real issue when it came to our written language. It isn’t, or at least, it shouldn’t be. Yes, in the past, the default has been to refer to individuals of non-specified gender as ‘he’. My answer to that is ‘so what’; there’s no rule to suggest that I am in any way required so to do. 

On those occasions when I talk about an individual of non-specified gender I tend to alternate between genders, assuming that the reader won’t notice, or might, herself, assume that I do, in fact, have a particular person in mind. Nothing wrong with that. On those occasions when I want to remain gender non-specific I try to construct a sentence that requires an unspecified number of people of unspecified gender. It takes very little thought to make a very minor adjustment, and it prevents me making ugly, glaring errors that should not be tolerated.

Think about it, because I can’t help supposing, now I’ve pointed out this one example, that you’ll start seeing them all over the place, and that they’ll start bugging you, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment