NEWSFLASH: I’m female– on the internets!

This is another short, angry rant bit it’ll have to do for today.

The backstory: I’m doing a complete redesign of my fraternity’s website (it’s co-ed, I’m a brother, long story). I might be writing it from scratch, or, to make updating easier, I might to crafting a custom CSS theme to make a wordpress blog fit the bill. I’m taking a semester off (another long story) so I had to ask one of my brothers who is currently on-campus to get everyone’s opinions on certain matters. One big issue was who would be in charge of providing the content. People advocated for either a webmaster-is-god approach, a everyone-should-be-involved approach, or, my favourite, the middle-route where everyone gives content to the webmaster-god, who pastes it into the proper part of the site.

So far so good, right? Well, there was just one problem… several of my brothers were acting like “webmaster” was a gendered term. So they’d say, “Officers are irresponsible, make them go through the webmaster, and make him nag them for updates,” or “Webmaster controls all! He may request input from others.”

Now, it’s stupid at the best of times to just assume that “webmaster” means man. But these people already knew it was me. Which is just…all kinds of special.

I don’t want to overstate this– those were the only two comments that specified a gender for the webmaster; everyone else constructed their sentences so they could use “you” or “they.” But that’s still two out of eighteen, which is not good.

I mean, I love them anyway. They’re my brothers. I even love the brother who thinks I’m going to hell for being gay (and he loves me too). But right now, I’m annoyed with them.

And no worries– I’m not being too passive-aggressive about this. I sent one of those two brothers an email letting him know that I was not pleased.

I’m female. Even when I’m managing websites. It shouldn’t be hard.

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2 Responses to NEWSFLASH: I’m female– on the internets!

  1. Alexbutt says:

    Hey, what do you think about the whole “they” issue? I mean, would you rather make sentences awkward by always saying, “he or she,” or is it okay to make the terrible grammatic faux pas of using “they” when you’re really only talking about one theoretic person?

  2. eloriane says:

    I am a firm believer that using the exclusionary “he” is nothing but lazy and inaccurate, and therefore unacceptable in all writing. There are plenty of other, non-awkward ways to phrase things. For example:

    “If a student wants to score better, he should study,” can become any of the following (arranged from most awkward to least):
    “If a student wants to score better, he or she should study.”
    “If one wants to score better, one should study.”
    “If you want to score better, you should study.”
    “If students want to score better, they should study.”
    “Studying will often improve students’ scores.”

    Notice how the last one is actually more concise and probably a better way of expressing the idea? Often sentences that make use of the exclusionary “he” are poorly-worded in the first place and could use some revision.

    I find it actually takes very little thinking to make a sentence gender-neutral, and I consider it to be always worth it, since unless you’re talking about a completely male group (like a non-co-ed fraternity) it’s simply inaccurate to use a male pronoun. Even leaving aside the unpleasant assumption that default humans are male, it’s wrong to say that “a good doctor listens to his patients.”

    I also advocate the use of “they” as a singular, gender-neutral third-person, but mostly in speech at this point. I would like to see it adopted in print as well, since there is a great need for such a word and this one is already well-used (i.e., more likely to catch on than constructions like “zie”). However, print offers a lot more opportunity for revision than speech, so for now I just advocate re-writing your sentences to avoid the exclusionary “he.”

    (If we’re talking about a specific person whose gender is unknown, by the way, I would say that it’s your responsibility to find out the preferred pronoun usage before you publish whatever you’re writing. And if it’s only speech, use the singular “they.”)

    I’ve never needed to use an exclusionary “he,” and I don’t think I’ve ever even started out with one. It’s not any harder to learn than any other rule of grammar, and it’s part of being a decent writer.

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