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Gendered Behavior

November 20th, 2014
gender  [html]
One of the best comments on yesterday's post post was by a trans woman who wrote, paraphrasing:
There are lots of ways people treat men and women differently. Not just pronouns: body language, formality, assumptions. As a woman I want people to group me with women in all of these ways, but pronouns are really the only one most people seem to be willing to put in the effort for. Which means that if we stop using gendered pronouns I'll lose one of the few situations where people respect my gender at all.

This makes sense. If we were to keep our current social environment and just drop gendered pronouns it would be an awkward tradeoff. Some people would be very happy that they could mostly sidestep the question of gender; others would feel like they were losing the only way they currently get any acknowledgement of their gender, any counterbalance to the many subtle ways people continuously misgender them. I think it would be an improvement on balance, but I'm not sure.

It seems like the real problem here, however, is using apparent gender in deciding how to treat people. Thinking through examples, I haven't found any that are beneficial or even benign. Keeping explicit recognition of gender via pronouns seems like the wrong way to handle this: fight excessive gendering with more gendering? Gender-neutral pronouns aren't enough on their own, but for many of us they're one of the only ways we intentionally treat men and women differently. It seems like it would be harder to get rid of all the small ways we indicate to others how we have categorized them while still keeping around these big explicit ones.

As long as I still use gendered pronouns of course I'm going to use them with trans people. Someday, however, I hope singular "they" will have progressed far enough that I'll be able to use it with everyone. And by that point I don't want to still have any ways of treating people differently because of their gender.

In many ways this is a harder project than pronouns because these behaviors are, especially as a cis person, hard to notice. But it's something I'm going to work on.

(There are cases where biology and organs still apply. You only need screening for prostate cancer if you have a prostate. (Though even then the evidence is mixed.) I'm not trying to talk about these differences. The relevant cases are ones like whether to hug or shake hands when greeting someone, which are entirely social.)

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