Ninth grade honors English. That’s the first time I heard it—that I should use the phrase “he or she” instead of “you” or “they” to refer to a hypothetical person. I remember my teacher’s pronoun lesson: “Traditionally, people have paired ‘he’ with hypothetical people like ‘the reader,’” he said, “but then feminists argued that wasn’t inclusive of women. So now it’s convention to use ‘he or she.’”
It seemed like the best alternative, since “you” was so informal and “they” was plural. And it certainly seemed like the most inclusive option, since it took into account exactly the people who filled the classroom and my life—women and men. It challenged my heteronormative, white middle-class upbringing and taught me I didn’t have to accept everything that came along with the “F” on my birth certificate, like the pressure I felt and put on myself to wear makeup and dresses.
It took discovering what made “he or she” progressive, however, before I could see its flaws. That first pronoun lesson, after all, taught me that gender was something I could and should be conscious of. I owe my current non-binary gender identity and all my interest in feminism to it, which makes my relationship with the phrase all the more complicated. Not only do I disagree that English teachers should be pushing it on their students, but I owe everything I am and will be to one English teacher doing just that—marking up all my instances of “you” or “they” in essays as if they were blatant misspellings. I treasure and despise the phrase simultaneously. Continue reading “It’s Time to Stop Using “He or She” | Kim Kaletsky”