HONOLULU (KHON2) — Everyone uses them. Most rely on them. Many hate them. Gendered pronouns have always been a controversial subject.
A peer recently asked this reporter why all these people feel like they can use any gender they want. “They are just doing whatever they want,” he said.
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Of course, this question made this reporter pause.
If he has questions on this subject, there must be lots of people who also are confused or offended. So, the conversation prompted this reporter to do a bit of exploration.
He said that he is a scientist and that there is no way around how people are born.
He was absolutely correct. Sex is one of two things we can be. But, gender is an artificial construct that is not necessarily related to sex. Constructs are the building blocks we use to create and develop who we are and how we view the world around us.
This led to a humorous conversation about alligators from which he agreed that he would not gender an alligator. He simply refers to them as male or female. He agreed that gendering animals is an artificial way of observing who they are. The key word in that is artificial, or not real.
Now, for humans, gender has been a means of control for centuries. With clever language and confusing references, people are told that sex and gender are the same, interchangeable thing.
It is imperative to understand that sex and gender are not the same thing.
Sex is the male or female organs with which we are born. Few people choose to change this physical attribute about themselves, choosing rather to cloak or obscure the physical markers that are very difficult to shed.
Gender and gendered pronouns, on the other hand, are language and social constructs. They are used for many different reasons. Often, gender is a way demarking status, work, opportunity, skills, preferences, clothing choices, performative social roles; but they have also been used to marginalize and oppress.
Gender, as we know it today, came to us through European influences. In European countries, gender became a linguistic way of labeling everything.
In Romance languages, everything is gendered into masculine and feminine perspectives. With Rome came a great deal of control in Europe; and Latin, the language of Rome, moved through areas and spread gendered constructs where they had not existed before.
For example, Pacific Islanders and First Nations peoples of the Americas did not have gender constructs in the same way as Europeans.
For these two broad groups of people, gender was a spectrum. There was not a hard rule that if you are a female, then you are feminine and you are supposed to like, do and wear feminine things.
But, when Christian missionaries came to spread the religion of Rome, they forced these artificial constructs onto native populations. For the missionaries, it was a way of controlling and parceling out labor and slave workforces.
By forcing binary systems onto societies that had previously embraced a spectrum of social, romantic and work-force roles within a society, they pushed many of those populations to become entrenched in a system that only functioned to oppress them.
Now, fast-forward to 2023. People are beginning to realize that their traditions and cultures were stolen from them and have begun to demand that they have the right to reclaim their heritage.
Personally choosing one’s pronouns has become a way for people to reclaim control in their lives and destiny.
For Native Hawaiians, it is the māhū who embodies the traditions of pre-European contact. For First Nations peoples of North America, it is the two-spirit.
In both instances, the cultures had been flexible enough to embrace the full spectrum of the human experience. For example, a woman performed duties related to skills and passions rather than based on what gendered sex determined.
Gender is a way for the viewer to have some sort of control in a situation. If you can label the world around you, then you feel much more comfortable and in control.
If someone changes those labels and tells you that you cannot use them, then you become upset and confused.
But, would it not be easier to see that gender is as artificial as polyester and just as flammable?
The next time you encounter a person who does not want to use the pronoun label that you think they should use, try this. Ask that person what it is about their experiences that makes them choose the gendered pronoun they have chosen.
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Who knows, this conversation could change your life and open a whole new world of knowledge. And, as we know, knowledge is power.