The English language (and most other languages) reflects a superfluous focus on gender through gender-specific personal pronouns. This is one reason so many people fixate on gender, and are unsure of how to relate to a person whose gender is unknown. Some people go so far as to assign a gender to a person regardless of mixed gender identification or non-gender identification. This obsessive gender-assignment also applies to non-living objects such as vehicles and weather phenomena. Planes, trains, automobiles, and ships are often feminized with the personal pronouns “she,” “her,” and “hers.” Tornadoes, tsunamis, and the like are either feminized or masculinized depending on their assigned anthropomorphizing personal names. Perhaps most nonsensical gender-philic habit is using “he,” “him,” and “his” as default personal pronouns. Part of the solution would be using gender-neutral pronouns.
Consider the following scenario-
Pat asks Robin. Robin answers Pat.
Now we have personal pronoun combinations to consider-
She thinks her answer is good.
He thinks his answer is good.
He thinks her answer is good.
She thinks his answer is good.
Assuming the “answer” in the sentences could either belong the the answerer or the answeree:
“She” and “her” could both refer to Pat, or could both refer to Robin. Likewise, “he” and “his” could both refer to Pat, or could both refer to Robin. Or the feminine and masculine pronoun groups could be bisected between Pat and Robin.
Without additional information about Pat and Robin, it is impossible to assign gender-specific pronouns without possibly getting it wrong. And this isn’t even considering Chris, who is intersexed, and Bobbie, who is genderqueer, and Tracy, who is a genderless AI.
So what the heck do we do? If we use gender-neutral pronouns to refer to Pat, Robin, Chris, and Morgan, we eliminate the risk of getting their genders- or lack of genders- wrong. Without context, we still don’t who is doing the asking and who is doing the thinking, but we won’t miss-assign genders. Using gender-neutral language will eliminate gender faux pas.
Why is this so important? People tend to be influenced by their environments, and language is a specific environment of the mind. If an environment you are experiencing and using is supporting faulty gender assignments, you will tend to adapt the faulty assignments as valid within your environment. This linguistic relativity may perpetuate sexism.
Obviously, the use of gender-neutral language is not yet widely accepted. People find gender-neutral pronouns clumsy and dismissible because they aren’t taught in enough schools with enough consistency.
So in the meantime, I see nothing wrong with “they” as an all-inclusive personal pronoun, though assigning a plural pronoun to a singular noun may seem awkward at first. I also see nothing wrong with “it” as an all-inclusive personal pronoun, but most people, including transhuman Zinnia Jones, do:
What is your opinion of gender-neutral language?