Something keeps bugging me out whenever I read some article or any piece of writing that impulsively insists on using gender-specific pronouns for the subject they’re telling (it’d be strange if I had used “he” or “she” here, basically the whole point of what I’m going to say). And to be clear, this post isn’t intended to have any political/social/activist/whatnot aspect attached to it. It’s just merely something that annoys me. Although, I must say that I share Jordan Peterson’s view on the subject of pronouns. It just isn’t okay to be forced by law to refer to someone by their preferred pronouns. I myself would use the pronouns that a person wants to be referred to by. But if someone happens to choose not to, I don’t think they should be punished by the law. The government should have no say in such matters. Thankfully, as Turkish speakers, we don’t have such problems (thank you gender-neutral pronouns!). Although I wish we’d have problems about the use of pronouns and get into heated discussions in our campuses, instead of things like… bad economy, human rights abuses, corruption, etc.. Long live Canada. Hopefully we’ll catch up with you.
Went a bit off track there. Coming back to the subject, I decided to write about this after I’ve read the article The Duct Tape Programmer by Joel Spolsky. Definitely recommend giving it a read. I love his writings.
In the article, Joel gives a hypothetical example of a programmer who comes by to your desk and boasts about how great he is about this and that. In my mind, I’m like “why is this programmer supposed to be a male??”, yes the tech industry (perhaps like most) is male-dominant. Yes, there’s a high chance that this programmer would be a guy, in 9 out of 10 times that could be true. But when writing about hypothetical situations, why should we assume/decide someone’s gender based on stereotypes? It just doesn’t feel right when you read that. It seems off.
Unless we’re referring to someone specific, say, Sarah or Paul, I think it’s best to use “they” instead. That way, the reader’s mind isn’t forced to think of this imaginary person as a man or a woman and form their opinion around that gender, because it is not a specific person, thus it’s more suitable to use genderless pronouns, aka “they” (I’ve looked up online and there seems to be a ton of new pronouns added to the language, but I’m sticking to the good old they here).
An example from the article I’d mentioned earlier: (condensed some things for clarity)
… somebody comes up to your desk and starts rattling on about how if you use multi-threaded COM apartments, your app will be 34% sparklier, and it’s not even that hard, because he’s written a bunch of templates, and all you have to do is multiply-inherit from 17 of his templates, each taking an average of 4 arguments…
Now, this person is not real, just made-up programmer for the sake of telling a story. When I read this, I find it weird/incorrect/wrong that the author goes ahead and just decides it’s a male programmer. I don’t think Joel (or anyone else for that matter) has some kind of evil-agenda behind such uses, it’s just become a habit I guess.
And now the same example, but with “they”:
… somebody comes up to your desk and starts rattling on about how if you use multi-threaded COM apartments, your app will be 34% sparklier, and it’s not even that hard, because they’ve written a bunch of templates, and all you have to do is multiply-inherit from 17 of their templates, each taking an average of 4 arguments…
I think this one’s much clearer. For me, this is easier to read and think about. Probably this is just not a big deal to most people. They read through things perfectly fine. Maybe I’ve developed some obsessive habit of thinking too much about the imaginary people’s pronouns in stuff I read. But that’s the way it is and I try to be more mindful about it.
No big dealio, but for god’s sake let’s use “they” instead of “he/she” in hypothetical scenarios! Spread the word!