Recently I’ve been spending a little more time browsing Mastodon, and one of the things that’s caused me to think about is why I don’t feel comfortable nominating some preferred pronouns on my profile (which is a popular thing to do over there). Part of me just feels like my display name – “Jessica” – is already pretty obviously gendered, so the “elegant” thing would be for the viewer to infer my pronouns from that. What’s more, if you really don’t feel comfortable inferring, and you’d rather refer to me with gender-neutral pronouns like “they/them”, I literally don’t mind at all. It’s happened a couple of times IRL that a new acquaintance has introduced me to an even newer acquaintance as “they”, and while startling, it felt nice, even flattering! But “she” is what I’m used to, and what feels natural… and honestly, I feel kind of defensive about having every claim to womanhood if I want it, despite never wearing make-up, rarely wearing dresses, and having spent years with short hair. (You’d think this’d be pretty damn obvious in the 21st century, but alas, among some people, it’s not.) Like in a hypothetical world where all gendered oppression had ended, maybe I’d consider myself non-binary (most likely agender), but in the meantime I feel some responsibility to “stick with” womanhood just to prove that you can and don’t need to comply with every gender norm to do so.
Honestly, my discomfort isn’t with my own gender or gender expression, but with the conservative gender norms that remain way more prevalent in society than they have any right to be, as well as the inflated importance our language gives to gender in the first place (such as through, you guessed it, gendered pronouns). Like, the main reason I don’t want to put my pronouns on my profile is that I don’t even like gendered pronouns, as a concept. Not saying you should talk about other people like their genders are state secrets, but neither are they so important that it warrants hardcoding them into nearly every sentence through the pronouns you use. People are primarily just people, man. If it were up to me to redesign the English language, I’d just have one singular pronoun for sentient beings (in contrast to it, for inanimate objects and things). There are many, many languages that get by without a he/she distinction. This isn’t to say that I don’t care about getting anyone else’s pronouns right just because I don’t think that aspect of our language should exist, of course – that’s a matter of respecting people, so I do care.
For so long as English does make its he/she distinction, as well as in other languages that make such distinctions, I certainly fall onto the “she” side of things. I’m comfortable with that. What I do resent is the rigidity of the gender binary; not being female, but the fact that being female makes (some) people think you give a single fuck about eyebrow threading or manicures or spa days or shoe shopping, or that you shouldn’t be allowed a single drink in public even at events where men are getting shitfaced, or that it’s your duty to corral children at family gatherings so “the boys” can chat amongst themselves, undisturbed either by women or by their own children, or that it’s your duty to do all the housework and the childrearing so “the man” can focus on his career, but thanks to third-wave feminism, you also have to have your own capitalism-approved full-time career and work just as many hours as “your man” on top of doing the housework and the childrearing while “your man” maybe puts in a token effort sometimes, and gaaaaaaah. Fuck all of that shit. And this is all, largely, shit I was unaware women still had to endure in the 21st century until I had to deal with some of my in-laws. But while all this pressure sucks, it doesn’t make me think, “well, my discomfort with these gender roles means I can’t possibly be a woman then,” (although seeing some of my female in-laws embrace this bullshit and try to gender-police me into going along with it definitely makes me think I have nothing in common with them) – it makes me think that the oppression of women sucks and we, along with sympathetic men (which most of the men I know are) and others have to resist perpetuating it in our own lives. We should challenge sexism at a higher level, too. But especially in our own lives.
I also feel like there are many aspects to my identity that are more important than my gender. Things like my disability, my class and my cultural background are at the very least equal to my gender. But my values, my interests, my politics… these are all more relevant to me. When I’m chatting away, it’s much more likely to be about languages or history or cool TV shows or transport policy than it is about “stereotypically feminine” topics like where we bought our outfits. (And again, until the last couple of years, I never knew that was a thing anyone could discuss for more than like two sentences…) My friendship groups have always been very mixed and these are the kinds of things we’ve talked about. I guess I feel like, on a fundamental level, I identify more with anyone who shares my general outlook on life than I do with someone just because they could also be described as “she/her”. It sounds dumb, because pronouns based on “general outlooks on life” are not going to be workable, but I guess I’d care more about specifying pronouns for people to get right if they were.
So I guess to boil this post down into a one-liner: “My pronouns are she/they.” I am female, but ultimately gender isn’t very important to me (except when it makes me subject to oppression, at which point it’s very annoying) and I feel like specifying pronouns is over-emphasising mine. I think it would be nice to speak a language that didn’t put gender to the fore so strongly in the first place. But, you know, it is what it is. I can’t reform the whole English language on my own; I can refrain from nominating pronouns for myself that I don’t feel strongly about. Not sure that’s a position everyone respects, but it’s what I feel most comfortable with.