Ey! Eir! Em!

Okay, I suppose it's finally time to address the "ey," "eir," and "em"s that frequent my posts. I thought I could just not address it and you all would gradually adopt these gender-neutral pronouns into your own vocabularies, but based upon the comments I've been receiving, I'm clearly going to need to give it some explanation.

The English language is faulty without gender-neutral pronouns. It's obnoxious, when referring to a hypothetical person to have to use "he/she" or "he and she." Why don't we have a word that doesn't specify? Many people try to fudge this dilemma by using "they," but not only is it grammatically incorrect, it confuses the number of people being specified.

Our language does not allow for transgendered individuals, those with ambiguous genitalia, and people who reject the connotations that come with the anatomy with which they were born. "He" and "she" do not suffice in these circumstances, and a progressive society should try to address this problem.

Since I am not a fan of stereotypes or social norms, I resent all constructs that force labeling individuals. When we refer to a person, we have the option of not sharing that individual's age, race, or sexual orientation, yet often, due to the limitations of our language, it is unavoidable to not reference one's gender. Our pronouns essentially force us to reveal that information about someone. We should be more socially-forward than using this archaic system. Can you imagine how ludicrous it would be if pronouns referenced someone's race, such that when you tried to talk about someone, you had to say something like, "Jamie ate shellfish. Hispanic threw up in Hispanic's toilet." What that establishes is a system where race cannot only not be ignored, but is still deemed a crucial characteristic. With that in place, we continue to focus on the differences between us and discrimination is perpetuated.

Sexism is the most ingrained form of discrimination in contemporary culture. Granted, there are certain, important biological differences between genders, but the extent to which this fact plays out in the way people consequently think, dress, and behave is largely unwarranted. Now I'm not saying one's sex is entirely irrelevant. There are times when, given the context of the story, it is pertinent to share that information. Otherwise, it is unnecessary. And that is why I advocate the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

There are a few different existing sets of gender-neutral pronouns, but I choose ey, eir, and em, as they simply chop off the "th" from the pluralized forms. Thus he or she become ey, his or her becomes their, and him or her becomes em.

I haven't made a complete jump to gender-neutral pronouns, or even a half jump for that matter. Truthfully, it's difficult to remember to use them: after a lifetime of saying he and she, it becomes a habit. Also, some people seem to find it insulting when you degenderize them. Nevertheless, I still try to remember to use it especially in cases where the gender does not play a role in the story.

Today in class, I reviewed pronouns with my students. I didn't teach them the gender-neutral options because I thought that might be a bit much for sixth graders. After listing them all on the board, one student asked, "Is that it?" "Yeah, at this point in time, in this world," responded another. I was stunned. Is this kid in tune with the sexism that needs to be eradicated from our language? Ey continues, "Cuz you never know about aliens." Oh, ey meant aliens. But that's a valid point. If for no other reason, adopt gender-neutral pronouns for the aliens.


Anonymous said...

okkkk i didn't need that long post, but when you are talking about someone specific, like using that student about the alien, they do have a specific gender, so why not use it?? does it really matter if you let us know it was a boy? b/c otherwise, my mind just assumes that its a boy, unless otherwise specified.

Kevin said...

But why assume it's a boy? Did you assume the race, height, and weight of the child as well? A person should be a person before a gender.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. I don't mind being called "she," seeing that I am female. (Or am I?)

Incidentally, the English language is much less gendered than most languages. Only our singular pronouns are gendered whereas in many languages almost every part of speech is gender-specific or has gender-specific cases.

Alice said...

Today in the costume shop i work in we talked about the history of button shirts and how they have become gendered. I thought of you. Love.

Anonymous said...

In Chinese the spoken word for he, she and it is all the same word Ta. In characters there is a difference, but spoken there is also no his, hers, etc. gender distinction. Also in many romance languages like latin, you don't have to saw I came I saw I conquered it's just Vendi, vidi, vici, any hoo before people were literate, have a gender neutral language didn't do anything for gender equality in china for thousands of years and in modern french having to know the gender of every noun, didn't stop them from universal health care and paid maternity leave. (In high school, I was always like who looks at an apple and thinks hMMMM is this masculine or feminine.) Ugh, I don't care, it's more concern of me when I was a finalist for a film festival pitch to get a production budget in college at 19 and no one knew where the woman's restroom was.