Why the Need for Gender-Specific Pronouns?

In the sentence, “She is intelligent,” why is it important to know that the person is female?

I have a few friends that prefer that I use the “they” pronouns when referring to them. I respect that completely. I have no problem with doing so. But I admit that after a lifetime of not knowing the value of that act of respect, I sometimes forget.

I hope they don’t take my missteps as a sign of disapproval. I’m sure they get it a lot, too. Not that that’s any excuse. All I can say is that I’m forgetful even on a good day, but I sincerely promise to always do my best.

I was thinking about that on the commute to work this morning, and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why we have gender specific pronouns in the first place. For example, in the sentence, “She is very intelligent,” why is it important for us to know that the person in question is a female? Why does it matter that his shoes are stylish, or her team won the nationals, or that he has a reputation for always being late? Is the quality of intelligence, style, sportsmanship or promptness somehow different based on one’s orientation or perceived genitalia? The concept seems rather absurd when you look at it that way.

Since only extremely misinformed people think that the English language is rigid and does not evolve over time, I suggest that maybe it’s time that we get rid of gender specific pronouns. I believe that only those who are heavily invested in the patriarchy would object, and while it might feel strange to the rest of us at first, I think that within a generation it would become second nature. Meanwhile, it could be seen as some form of cool slang until it became routine.

Personally, I think it would be refreshing to be talked about as an individual rather than as an entity that can or should be prejudged based on some weird form of team membership. I’m sure that if there are any rational flaws in this concept, someone will point them out in the comments section. But as I sit here on the quiet, sunny day, I can’t help thinking that this is an idea whose time has come, and that some day the way we speak now will seem very quaint, indeed.

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The View is Different from Venus to Mars

“If I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun.”

Gender roles and gender differences have always fascinated me. I’ve written about these subjects several times. Most recently, I wrote a post entitled What Do You Do? about the many steps women take to avoid sexual assault. Men rarely have to think about these things.

If you search my blog for posts about gender, or click on my feminism heading, dozens will come up. Some of these include: Sworn Virgins in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo; Secure in My Manhood; Buying in to Gender Violence Phraseology; and Gender-Specific Jobs? Pffft.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a very interesting conversation with someone who has a unique insight into gender roles. To protect his privacy, we’ll call him Mr. Anonymous. As you will soon see, he has had the opportunity to contemplate this topic even more than the majority of us have. I learned a great deal from this conversation, and so I asked him if he’d be willing to be a guest author for today’s post. He was kind enough to agree. So without further ado, here’s Mr. Anonymous.


Today I was in the grocery store looking for this herbal tea that I usually find in health-food stores. As often happens, a woman approached, needing something on a nearby shelf. I was far enough away for her to easily pass me, but she still felt the need to apologize and grab her item quickly. I assured her that she was not in the way. She replied, “That’s good.”

She said it like it was a relief. Here I was, needing a haircut, and I hadn’t shaved in several days, so I looked kind of rough. I felt rough in that store today. Yet this woman, who was about my age, saw a man looking at the items from afar and apologized for getting in my way when she had no reason to.

Not everyone is like that. There are rude types of people in all walks of life. But there is also an obvious pattern of male privilege that I experience every day. I was not born with this privilege, since I am trans person from female to male.

I have gotten some odd vibes from dudes working in hardware stores. As a man, I’m expected to know about tools and such, and I’m not really up to par on these things. So I have learned to do a little online research before I venture outward. Men don’t expect to have to explain things to another man. On the other hand, it’s assumed that a woman would need help. Women are almost treated like children. I find it insulting. I was often insulted before I started passing as a man.

I have seen butch hardcore lesbians more mechanically inclined than I am. Sadly, in the Deep South, there is a great deal of pressure to maintain the stereotypes of men and women. Because of this, I see transmen put on acts to be like the guys. (In other words, work on cars and be an ass.) Well, I think, “Ask Sally, that butch woman. She will help ya out with that transmission.”

I dress masculine and never had an impulse to carry a purse. I remember things I used to do without realizing that they were “what men do”. I was told that I walked like a man when all I was doing, as far as I was concerned, was walking. My sisters wore makeup. I tried against my will to do the female thing, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard with me. Just give me a big loose flannel shirt and some jeans and I am ready to walk out the door.

One of the most alarming things about being on the other side of the rainbow is the fear I create in women just by walking down the sidewalk. If a woman is walking alone in front of me, she picks up her pace. I can feel her fear. I slow down, take detours, or sit down if there are steps or a bench until I feel she is far enough away from me so that she can relax.

A part of me wants to tell her that I know how she feels. I was born female. I know that fear. I was someone who was looked at and hit on by strangers. I felt degraded by people asking to pay me for sexual favors. That was disgusting.

I remember, in my early twenties, riding the bus home from work every day. It wasn’t the best neighborhood. I’d be standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus and several times men stopped, thinking I was a street walker. They would try to get me to go with them. Even after telling them I was only waiting for the bus to go home, they still persisted until the bus showed up.

I remember men asking me if my husband is home when I had no husband. I would reply yes. I would paint the imaginary husband as some rough around the edges redneck that didn’t take any BS. That was my life in Louisiana in my younger years.

I was not brought up and treated as male because I was born female. It’s most heartbreaking to me that women are often raised to be so passive and molded into being the shadow of men. They shouldn’t feel the need to apologize and get out of my way.

On the other hand, when I was seen as a woman, women would treat me quite rudely. I guess it has something to do with the pecking order or something. I don’t know. I never understood it. But wow, those same types of women became passive and apologetic once that they saw me as a man.

People make different assumptions about men and women. As a woman, if I told people I had bought a power-tool, I was always asked why. As a man, I can say the same thing and I get an OK.

As a man, I can add my input to conversations without being contradicted. Women get contradicted no matter how right they are. Many men do not want to be intimidated by the intelligence of women.

I am not a very social person, but I observe and feel compassionate about the issue of gender roles that are forced upon people. How many female geniuses in history, prodigies even, have been passed up and never given the chance? Women are half of humanity, lest we forget.

Evolution seems to be in the favor of men more than women because men are physically stronger. Men use that strength to their advantage. The bad ones belittle women because those women do not have the strength to physically defend themselves. (Although in fairness, some women will rip a dude a new ass. Even after years of my being on hormones, these same strong women could whoop my ass easily.)

Generally speaking, though, that feeling of power can bring out the worst in a man. Because of this, women are conditioned to be less, be passive, obey, and act like perfect good girls.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the shadow or if I am casting the shadow. It can be confusing. I might go to a bar and have a drink or go home and sip on hot tea. Either way, I’d like to be respected as a human first. But if I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun. That applies to all the women who have apologized to me when they had no reason to.

Everyone should be entitled to simply be respected as a person. It should be that easy. But it’s not.

Venus Mars

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“You’ve got a little bit of androgyny going on,” a friend told me recently.

I never really thought about it, but I suppose that’s true. I’ve never been a girly-girl. I don’t wear makeup. I’m more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt than I’ll ever be in a dress. People assume I’m a lesbian all the time. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Androgyny has just never appeared in my mental list of self-describing words. I have womanly desires. I’ve definitely got curves, and I’m told I exude a goodly amount of sex appeal when properly inspired. So this is an interesting new lens through which to look at myself. There’s nothing better than having new perspectives.

Now that I’ve posted my profile on a website under the heading “women seeking men”, I feel like I’m examining myself closer than I ever did before. Who am I? What makes me unique? What is open to compromise and what’s cast in stone?

If you’re into women who wear high heels and perfume and like to giggle, I’m not the woman for you. If you are looking for someone who likes to pretend to be helpless, look elsewhere. I’ve spent too many years taking care of myself for all that foolishness.

Actually, it isn’t foolishness. It’s just on a different part of the psychosocial spectrum than I happen to reside on. Everyone has their purpose and their place. My niche just doesn’t happen to be decorated with lace and silk, which is great, because it leaves more of that stuff for the women who want it.

[Image credit: dapperq.com]
[Image credit: dapperq.com]

How Do Men Do It?

At the risk of setting the women’s movement back 50 years, I have to say there are certain characteristics that are more traditionally male that I’d much rather not take on. Having recently thrown my hat into the dating ring, I’ve been trying to make the first move a lot more than I ever had to in my younger days. This goes against all my instincts. I’m so far out of my comfort zone that I can’t even see it from here. But my current philosophy is nothing ventured, nothing gained, and therefore I’ve been putting myself out there. Or at least I’ve been trying. So far all this has gotten me is a boatload of rejection.

Men may not like rejection, but they’re more used to it. Life is really a numbers game, and they have been made to understand this since early childhood. I, on the other hand, have had the luxury of sitting back and letting relationships come to me up to this point. And I had no idea what a luxury that was. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s giving me blisters.

There is other man stuff I would never be able to incorporate into my character. I am totally cool with asking directions. I can’t imagine my default position being that I should act as though I know what I’m talking about even when I’m not sure. That would close me off from all the many fonts of information that come in the form of friends, family, and coworkers. I’d feel completely isolated if my only brain trust were my own brain, as formidable as it may be.

I’m also not particularly competitive. I’m happy when others win. I’m surprised when others resent it when I win.

Despite the fact that I deal with discrimination everywhere from the workplace to the used car lot, I have to say I’m really glad I’m not a man. It’s just not in me.

'You two need to get over yourselves and just ask for directions.'

Hell Yes, I Profile!

The other night at around 3 am I was sitting alone here at work in my tiny little building minding my own business while most of the city slept. I keep the shades drawn because I don’t want people to know I’m a female alone. I also keep the door locked. But that didn’t stop someone from sneaking up here and pounding on the window and letting out a blood curdling scream.

I nearly soiled myself. And when I peeked out, sure enough it was a teenage boy, laughing as he ran away. It almost always is a teenage boy, isn’t it, when something stupid happens? They seem to leave their brains in a box on a shelf somewhere until they get to be about 25 years old. They don’t think about consequences.

I work with several old codgers with weak hearts who might not have survived that practical joke. Most people would understand that and therefore not do it. Most people.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, in the United States overall crime is disproportionately committed by males. And young people aged 16 to 24 commit the most crimes.

Speaking from experience, our crime rates here in Jacksonville skyrocket when the Navy ships are in port. Why? They’re full of boys in that age group.

I have no use for males between 16 and 24. None. I didn’t have any use for them even when I was in that age group myself.

The other day I was at a stop light and an African-American young man walked my way. I locked my door. He took note. He looked hurt. I’m sure he gets that a lot. I’m sure he thought I was being racist. Nope. If anything I was being sexist and ageist. I did the very same thing to a white boy the day before.

And you know what? I’ll keep doing it. I don’t care whose feelings I hurt or what people think of me. I am going to put my safety above your feelings every single time. I know there are some good kids out there. No doubt about it. But when it comes to my person and my property, I don’t care if you’re a Mormon Missionary out to save my soul. I’m going to err on the side of caution and avoid you. And you should encourage your mother and your sister to do the same.

Come see me when you’ve grown up a little, son. Then maybe we can be friends.


[Image credit: examiner.com]

Sworn Virgins in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo

In the isolated areas of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo, the gender roles have traditionally been extremely restrictive for women. They could not inherit, own land, vote, work outside of the home, choose their own spouses, smoke, drink, wear pants or watches, sing or dance, interact with men, or own businesses. They weren’t even supposed to enter homes first. That was the man’s privilege. In an area dominated by blood feuds, killing a woman only gave you half the credit that you would get if you killed a man. And once a marriage was arranged for a woman, often when she was still a child, she went from her lifelong home to being a subordinate in the home of her husband’s family. If they decided to beat her, she had no recourse.

So what was a woman to do if she was promised to a man she despised, or if all the men in her family died in war or blood feuds? What if she didn’t want to ever marry, or simply wanted the freedom to take charge of her own life?

The answer for many women was to cut off her hair, don men’s clothing, and take an oath in front of the village elders to become a sworn virgin. She then, for all intents and purposes, became a man. She had all the rights of a man, all the respect of a man, and suddenly her world expanded. She could do anything that a man could do. But to gain these privileges, she had to promise to remain chaste for life. She could never have children or take a life partner.

I came across this tradition today, and it brings up very mixed emotions in me. In reading about this, I see Americans, over and over again, trying to view this through our own cultural lens. We often assume that these women must surely have been lesbians, and this was the only way they could live the life they were meant to live, so good for them! But this apparently was quite frequently not the case. These were women who sacrificed a great part of their lives in order to keep their homes and families together, and to be able to make a living and support themselves without becoming the equivalent of a barnyard animal with no rights and no choices. They were doing what they had to do to survive.

And here’s where the American cultural lens comes in again. Learning about this, we tend to feel sorry for them. And yes, it must be a very lonely and difficult choice to make, but it does not appear that these women feel sorry for themselves. They are respected in their communities, and they have chosen to do what they needed to do to survive.

And ironically enough, once they’ve taken on this role, many of them strictly enforce the gender inequality of their culture just as any man does. They are outraged when women enter a home first. They participate in blood feuds. They look at the young girls of today with disgust as they see them running around in their short skirts, talking to men and marrying for love.

And as the modern world gets closer and closer to their doorsteps, these sworn virgins are becoming a dying breed. In 2008, there were less than 40 left, and most of them were quite advanced in age.

I am glad women in that region no longer feel the need to alter their lives so irrevocably in order to have the rights that every human deserves. But on the other hand, I do not begrudge these sworn virgins their choices. I admire people who do what they feel they have to do and make no apologies for it. Perhaps in other cultures they would have become nuns or joined the military. It’s hard to say. But the fact that some women have been willing to practically twist themselves into knots in order to have basic human rights just shows you how valuable those rights truly are.


An Albanian Sworn Virgin