1. The writer must make his gender statement.
2. The writer must make her gender statement.
3. The writer must make his/her gender statement.
4. The writer must make their gender statement.
5. As a writer, you must make your gender statement.
6. The writer must make hir gender statement.
Gender-neutral pronouns would be wonderful, but getting there requires changing the status quo, often while in the midst of making a point that has nothing to do with gender equality.
I tend to rebel against changing convention for this reason. I don’t want to be cloudy, making a point about gender equality when I’m not talking about gender equality.
But what is the convention?
Problems with each scenario:
- I use “his” the most, but I know I seem outdated or even misogynistic. It’s what I learned in school and I don’t have a problem with it. When I read “The writer must make his gender statement,” my attention is not called to the pronoun. I simply absorb the information in the sentence and move on. However, I realize that since this convention is changing, others might find the “his” antiquated and therefore distracting.
“Her” seems overtly feminist. It strikes me as politically correct even now that it’s actually the norm. I find it distracting.
“His/Her” seems more distracting than 2. because it’s ugly on top of being overtly feminist.
Consider: “My teacher took their book out.” There’s no way to make sense of this sentence outside of context if we allow 4. to exist as a convention. “Their” doesn’t bother me in informal speech, in certain cases, but doesn’t seem proper in writing.
“You” only works in second person. Fine for blog posts, not great when you’re writing an academic paper or fiction in 3rd person.
I reserve this for special occasions, and this is one of those occasions: WTF? If I saw “hir” in writing, I would assume someone forgot to use “hir” spell check.
I usually restructure the sentence and leave out the pronoun altogether if I can. I don’t like any of these options. But the problem is broader and goes beyond pronouns.
My novel, Philosopher King, is about a typical philosophy teacher and his typical students, which means it is male-dominated. I consider this a reflection of reality, not a political statement. In fact, I didn’t think about gender when I wrote the first draft, I simply tried to stay true to my experiences. Someone in my writing group noticed the inequality and wondered if I should change a few male characters into female. I thought doing so would seem unrealistic, and would draw attention to itself. However, I’m waffling. If she thought about gender while reading my first draft, perhaps others will too. Apparently the gender issue is inescapable.
I don’t want to distract the reader. I’m feeling damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Should I change the gender of a couple of male characters in order to avoid raising eyebrows? Or should I stick to reality? Any suggestions?
How do you deal with gender when you don’t want to address gender?