There are few consistently annoying things as being referred to by the wrong gender. It can be done out of maliciousness, aggressiveness, or laziness (or all three). It doesn’t happen to straight men routinely, daily, so for many of them, they just won’t have the frame of reference. But for almost everyone else, it’s almost humdrum to be referred to incorrectly. Of course, for transgender or gender-non-conforming folk there is a lot of baggage around gender and pronouns, and the same can be said for many in the LBGTQ community – and that is much more fraught and not humdrum at all. But even in a broader sense, if you’re not a male, you’ve probably been referred to many, many times as male.
It happened to me today, in the way it almost always happens – online, reading copy that was supposed to be consumed by the default customer.
…if the customer has paid his bills for service for the preceding twelve consecutive bills without having had service discontinued for nonpayment of bill or had more than two occasions in which a bill was not paid when it became due, and the customer is not then delinquent in the payment of his bills.
The only problem being that I am not a him or a his, and a him or a his has never paid this bill, and is not on the account.
The problem with using the male as default is that the male isn’t default. Men would think it ridiculous – laughable – if suddenly the English-speaking world flipped and started using she/her/hers for everything. They’d talk non-stop about how childish it is. There would be constant point-counter-point shows running. It would be around the clock. And yet, we non-men deal with this every day, and when we point out how dumb it is, eyes are rolled. We are mocked, even ridiculed.
Here’s something deeply important to remember about feminism. A couple of somethings, actually, and they are kissing cousins:
- Feminism isn’t about I, it is about We.
- Feminism is about equality.
It doesn’t matter if I personally experience something – I am generally treated pretty well for a woman; if a cop stops me, I know I won’t be shot, if a neighbor stops me, I know I won’t be asked if my kids are mine, if I go to the hospital, I’ll probably get medical care on par with a man. But I have a voice to use, and a vote to use, to help point out these issues and give them attention. At the very least, we owe them our attention – all of us. It’s not about me. I get paid well. I should still be screaming that women get paid 72 cents on the dollar, because that is not ok. I don’t face the same risks a black mother does when I give birth (you are far more likely to die in childbirth if you’re black, by the way, because we don’t value black lives as a society), but I should still be megaphone in hand addressing that this is happening. Because it is NOT OK. It also doesn’t matter if some weasely man says “well, I didn’t get any of these advantages – feminism is fake” – because it’s not about you. YOU are irrelevent. It is about us. All of us.
The incorrect/male default gender pronouns? That’s something that’s impossible to deny. It’s everywhere. Women (and others in the LBGTQ community) repeatedly have their selfhood denied, their identities subsumed by their partner’s identity. I set up my AllState account before I was married. I manage the account. I am the only one the agents have ever met. All of them send the mail to my husband. I set up our family YMCA account. Everyday, I see that my husband is listed as the account owner. My husband is always the borrower and I’m stuck as co-borrower (and it doesn’t have to do with credit – mine is better). Despite everyone saying it doesn’t matter who is listed as borrower and co-borrower, I have never been listed first. Not once. I’m not the default.
Time has an article here on gender pronouns. You can read about what the APA says here (they’re not fully on-board, but do say that you should definitely not use the male as the default), and you can see Indiana University’s breakdown here. Merriam Webster accepts “they” as a singular pronoun.