Gender Neutral Pronouns

From: John Smart (
Date: Thu Mar 29 2001 - 15:05:51 MST

Jimmy Wales wrote:
> Gender-neutral writing need not be tortured. And gender neutral
> writing about AIs is particularly easy, as compared to gender neutral
> writing about humans. The difficulty with humans is that they *do*
> have a gender, but we may not wish to specify which gender. That
> makes for a _slightly_ difficult situation, particularly for
> inexperienced or clumsy writers.
> There is no such difficulty when writing about AIs. Because they
> are not biological
> humans, they _do not have a gender_. Therefore, we can use 'it'.
> Eliezer claims that using "it" gets to be too difficult and
> confusing, but I strongly
> disagree. If anyone can come up with an example of a thought
> that can't clearly be
> expressed using normal English words, but for which 've/ver'
> helps... please do so.
> Otherwise, let's kill this monstrosity right here and now.
> Having a special (and _pointless_, mind you) set of pronouns
> really doesn't help.

I find this entirely correct, even if a bit harsh on Eli, who is simply
trying to move beyond sexism in a structured way in his writing.

But the real point is, we are already rapidly moving beyond sex having
future-relevance. You don't mention someone's race when it doesn't matter,
and likewise, you don't mention their gender pronouns, unless it does matter
in your sentence, which is rarely these days. Virtually everyone who knows
this simply uses it/itself, or moves beyond the pronouns. Those who have
tried special grammars have all faded, as that goes the wrong direction.
"It" is already gender neutral, and perfect. Like some, I used to simply use
"herself" since his has had far too much exposure, but in recent years I've
come to see "it" takes away the issue much better. When someone questions my
grammar I gently reeducation that it is appropriately sexless, as are many
important things these days.

Sex was a useful concept for creating biological complexity, but it is clear
we will be moving beyond sex. Even today we see people changing sex at will
(sometimes back and forth) or calling themselves "neutral" or "neutered" :)
instead of male and female on forms. We're all striving for sexual equality.
Having a special set of pronouns does unfortunately make everything you
write look quite "kookish," even though it is excellently motivated. It
detracts from your perceived wisdom unecessarily. I hope you'll take Wales
and my comments to heart, or do a survey or something, brother. Man. Hombre.
Sister. Girl. Chick. uh, partner. Friend. :)


John Smart
Understanding Accelerating Change

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