We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, December 9, 2013

She, He, & Ze

Source: Claim the Rainbow
"Ze". The Urban Dictionary describes "ze" as being, "a gender neutral pronoun. It refers to someone who does not fit into the gender binary," and "A gender neutral word with the context of he or she; not meaning in the transexual form, but in the context of a simple neutral word," which is paired with "hir" (as in his, her).  According to an Associated Press article, "'PREFERRED' PRONOUNS GAIN TRACTION AT US COLLEGES," ze is one of several gender-free pronoun alternatives being explored on American college campuses.  The point seems to be to avoid the dualistic distinction between male and female when referring to oneself and to others.  It is, in other words, a different way of thinking about self that does front load identity with gender.

This attempt to reframe personal pronouns in this way, calls our attention to the fact that "sex" and "gender"don't actually mean the same thing even though we tend to use them interchangeably.  According to the Google dictionary, gender means, "the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)." Sex, on the other hand, means, "either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions." Sex is about biology. Gender is about society and culture. We are born one sex or the other, but we socially construct our genders.  It is an important distinction then because as a social construct "gender" is also about the way we imagine, understand, and value our being male and female.  Gender unavoidably includes power issues and prejudices long, long ingrained in us.  To put the matter bluntly, women and men are biologically different but otherwise without distinction while in terms of gender in most societies nearly all the time women are constructed as inferior.

Whether or not genderless pronouns gain currency in the future, what (some) young people on college campuses seem to be experimenting with has broader implications.  They are learning to think less dualistically, less in terms of rigid categories than is usual for Western cultures.  They are blurring the lines that separate us from each other, the lines that encourage us to put each other into categories such as black and white, straight and not-straight, as well as female and male, which categories inevitably are laden with judgments and invite unjust, debilitating power relationships.  There is much more at stake here than political correctness.  It is about how we craft a more just, loving, and peaceful world in which women and men are gendered equal as well as born equal.  Amen.