What’s your pronoun?

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In 20-30 years, when our kids are in university, they are going to look back on our generation and wonder why we were so closed-minded about gender. They&rsquo;ll wonder why we didn&rsquo;t have unisex washrooms available in every public place. They&rsquo;ll wonder why we insisted on conceptualizing gender as a categorical framework rather than as a dimensional framework. And most notably, they&rsquo;ll wonder why we didn&rsquo;t ask people what pronoun they prefer to use, and instead offensively made assumptions.</p>

When I look back 20-30 years, I feel embarrassed at how uninviting our society used to be to homosexuals. Today it seems glaringly obvious that sexual orientation does not determine the worth of a person. Policies like legalizing gay marriage reflect this change, but it is also reflected in our move to a new use of language. For example, when we ask if someone is currently in a relationship, we increasingly ask if they “have a partner” rather than if they “have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” Thus, we’ve realized that we can no longer assume anyone’s sexuality.

But if we judge our parents’ generation too harshly on their hetero-normativity, we will become hypocrites. The thing is, we are still way behind on the times when it comes to policy and collective mentality on gender.

At this point, we are well aware that gender is a social construct. And yet, we insist on using gender as a way to divide people. Off the top of your head, tell me five places on campus where you can use a unisex washroom. If you struggled, that’s a problem because universities are typically the most forward-thinking institutions in society. The fact that we don’t have unisex washrooms in every single building on campus demonstrates the slow progress of gender rights development.

As this is the last instalment of the “Not Your Girl Next Door” column, I decided to try and write my comprehensive opinion on the issues of feminism. The more I thought about it, the more I was compelled to write about the overarching issue of gender constructs. I am very enthusiastic to be a part of the feminist movement, but I fear that, until we can embrace and celebrate all expressions of gender, we will never achieve true gender equality. This is for two reasons. First, gender equality means that all genders must be equal, not just men and women. And second, a lot of our problems exist because we use gender as a polarizing tool to put people into separate categories. In doing so, we start to believe that there are fundamental differences between males, females, and divergent-gender individuals. 

We need to stop believing that there are men and women. Rather, there are men, women, trans men, trans women, intersex, agender, undetermined, etc. So let’s stop saying men and women, and let’s start saying people. Don’t be afraid to blur the lines between gender categories. Start referring to people as “they” so that you don’t have to feel the need to use a gendered word. You can symbolically make this change right now by updating your Microsoft Word program to show that “they” is a grammatically correct singular pronoun.

Once we start to realize that gender expressions are fluid, it will naturally follow that gender is not a dividing trait. Gender is one element amongst many within a person’s identity. And I wholeheartedly believe that there are no fundamental differences caused by gender. It doesn’t dictate interests, or skills, or value. All gender does is help us move through the world with a sense of inner peace and understanding.  

We need to commit to existing in the middle ground. We need to understand and appreciate others for their differences, whatever they may be, and not deny people their true identities. This all starts with us asking, “what is your pronoun?” almost as naturally as we ask, “what is your name?” But once we do, we need to celebrate the answer. In previous issues, I talked about how feminism is multi-faceted and how you can’t pick and choose what issues you want to support. In order for feminism to be realized, we all must fully commit to everything involved in the pursuit of gender equality. 

My final message to you is probably the most important. Feminism will never be fully realized if we don’t completely tear down the false binary of gender. Gender is just a label, but we need to celebrate it rather than contain it. All the issues of feminism rest on the final realization that there is nothing fundamental about gender that makes people different. We are all more than our gender.

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