Car, masculine... Flower, feminine…
11-year-old me thought French was the most sexist language in the world. But I was wrong. It's language in general that's sexist. Mr, Mrs, Ms, Master… the ultimate Imperfect Tense. After all, why is gender and marriage status (but only for women) even ‘a thing’ when addressing others? And why stop there when we can bring back Gay Lords and Lesbian Ladies?
We've hesitated going ahead with this article for some time now, as we appreciate how much love, energy, fight and collaboration has been spent getting us to even a basic level of Pronoun flexibility across big business. Particularly by the Transgendered Community who so desperately need our Allyship and Advocacy to restore them equitable rights and opportunity. It is simply heartbreaking that today 50% of black transgendered women face violent hate crime every year, and even worse that so few seem to care enough to do something meaningful about it.
However, we exist to protect Humanity from hatred using our Uniqueness and Authenticity. So for the curious and the courageous, here is our uniquely authentic truth about Pronouns, Labels and their impact on marginalised communities. We Speak Up only because we have the courage to care and the wisdom to help.
The Linguistics of Oppression
1. Pronouns are not Authentic but they are divisive
When it comes to understanding each other, many still romanticize the complexity of our English language. But a quick glance in the Bible or original Shakespeare reveals how much simpler our language has become over time. And yet over the same period, people have become ever more complex thanks to progress in Equality legislation plus massive advances in our understanding of Human Identity and Behaviour.
For example, we now understand that Skin Colour, Gender, Age and Sexual Identity plus most other intrinsic Human Characteristics are all spectrums - not binary labels (see Collecting staff demographic data like a boss). As Human's, we can do anything we wish, achieve anything we want, be whoever we choose to become. Therefore any label we ascribe beyond Human will always be unsafe as it seeks to place our near-infinite complexity into boxes.
Ultimately, Human's don't put things in boxes that they care about. Because we understand words are meaningless. It's Authenticity (intent, behaviour, outcomes) that Human's care about, not Deception (reductive words, labels and acronyms). By putting ourselves in boxes, by attributing unrelated aspects of our complex identity to specific extrinsic features like our gender or marriage status, we are only dehumanising and therefore weakening ourselves.
2. Pronouns destroy Uniqueness and harm victims
Today, the world does not value difference and it remains a fundamentally unsafe place for people with the courage to openly exhibit their Human Uniqueness. But Seeking Safety is the very first qualifier of four to the Hierarchy of Success that defines our ability to reach our full Potential. Pursuing the Hierarchy of Success is innately instinctive to us all, yet so many Human's sadly get stuck at level 1.
When we feel unsafe, the best response is to seek safety in numbers by simply responding that you are a Human Being that deserves (and possesses under law) equal rights to the aggressor. But instead, because of Social Construction, people have begun to adopt the characteristic they are being oppressed over into their core Personal Identity, then look for others experiencing the same unsafety. Like herding sheep willingly to a slaughterhouse, we begin to see how Oppression works through compounding division (Divide and Rule) to attack meaningless arbitrary differences and purge Humanity of its common Human Identity and Intrinsic Uniqueness.
Responding to Linguistic Oppression
Until we can instigate mass re-educating that the safest, most inclusive, protective label anyone can adopt is 'Human', here are a few Deilightful suggestions to help you thrive through your differences:
If we’re mislabelled through affectionate jest or genuine mistake: there should be no harm done and no case to answer. Words only carry power if we choose to perceive them as powerful.
If we’re mislabelled maliciously: it only betrays the deep inferiority, insecurity, naivety and insignificance of a labeller who isn’t worth helping. Simply walk away with your head held high, confident that your authenticity guarantees your life to be happier than their vividly apparent sadness from rejecting their Humanity.
If we feel threatened: the discrimination is overt or you perceive danger to your safety (whether at work or beyond) it helps to memorise and then regurgitate these cautionary words - ideally at the top of your voice, if you can find the courage:
“You have just committed a criminal offence, direct discrimination and hate crime against a Protected Characteristic under the UK Equality Act 2010. This aggravated offence breaks 5 Acts of Parliament(1) and is subject to enhanced custodial sentencing of an additional 2 years beyond the statutory maximums for Discrimination and Harassment. Would you care to reword your statement?”
Need a hand creating safe spaces?
Then stop tinkering with Pronouns and get in touch with us about the multitude of ways you can authentically help more of the infinitely complex Human's who work for your business more effectively and consistently find the freedom to be their authentic selves, collaborate, innovate and belong. Climb the Heirarchy of Success, don't fall down the loser list of label lovers.
Footnote 1: Criminal Justice Act 2003, Equality Act 2020, Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Public Order Act 1986, Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Source: Hate Crime Laws Final Report, Law Commission (December 2021).