The curious opposition to inclusivity

There are so many offensive things that people say and do that are reported in the news that I often do not bother to comment on them because to respond to each and every one would become pretty much a full time job. For example, this time of year brings out those who feel that anything other than overtly Christian messages and symbols are an affront and the attempts to make the holidays more inclusive are a sign of discrimination against Christians. This faux war on the nonexistent war on Christmas has reached such a meta-level that it threatens to create a black hole of phoniness.

Anything that seeks to make our society more inclusive seems to drive some people up the wall. Take for example, the idea of using gender-neutral pronouns. This video has a nice discussion of it.

A student group at my university passed out flyers to people that contained some useful advice on this topic:

  • Upon meeting someone share your pronouns and give others the option of sharing or not sharing their pronouns with you.
  • Use they, them, their pronouns until someone’s pronouns are known.
  • Avoid using guys, ladies, or gentlemen when referring to groups; use everyone, you all or folks. When addressing individuals avoid miss/ma’am/sir if you don’t know the person, try excuse me if you are asking for someone’s attention.
  • Correct others who use the incorrect pronouns or name for trans people.
  • Address your own mistake: If you use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on.
  • Be aware of policies, practices, and resources on campus and in the Cleveland community

Suggestions to use gender neutral language came into being a few decades ago as people realized that using the male pronoun as the default led to sexist assumptions. That move did not cause much of a fuss as I recall. But the increased visibility of the transgender community has led to a resurgence in interest in the use of gender neutral pronouns but the new motivation for their use seems to be provoking a backlash in a way that the former attempt did not.

Both these things came together at the University of Tennessee when it issued guidelines suggesting the use of inclusive language for holiday parties and with respect to gender.

The post, titled “Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace,” was from the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and provided suggestions for how to avoid promoting a specific type of religion or culture during a holiday party. Some of the tips included, “Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes–for example, ‘Dreidel or ‘Secret Santa’” and, “If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.” The post did acknowledge that the university does not have an official policy regarding religious and cultural décor and celebrations in the workplace.

The group reportedly received backlash earlier this year when it asked students to use gender-neutral pronouns, WBIR-TV reported. The university later clarified that the information was intended as a resource and that there was no official policy on the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

The suggestions seem practical and harmless, no? But it resulted in calls by two state lawmakers for the chancellor of the university to resign saying that they had lost confidence in his ability to lead the university and that what the university was doing was “foolishness” that was “offensive to the vast majority of Tennesseans who help fund this university through their tax dollars.” If true, this does not reflect well on the people of Tennessee.

Incidentally, I am also sick and tired of people making sweeping statements that their personal peeves are supported by the ‘vast majority’ of Americans. Even if you are an elected official, that does not mean that all your views are supported by the ‘vast majority’. I’d like someone to ask them to back up such statements with actual evidence in support.


  1. doublereed says

    Well the case for gender-neutral pronouns is now way stronger for everyday use due to the rise of the internet.

  2. raven says

    Xians don’t have holidays. They have Wars on Holidays. Don’t forget the War on Easter, coming up in a few months.

    It’s just territorial marking and to give them something to whine about. We whine a lot = god exists.

    So Happy Holidays everyone. Xmas FWIW, it is classic example of cultural appropriation. The xians stole it from the Pagans. And now the Pagans are…taking it back.

  3. Callinectes says

    Ultimately this all stems from a quirk in English in which pronouns are gendered. Not so in Spanish. actually, Spanish pronouns are rarely used as the person reference is incorporated into the verb, but even then, the verbs are not only gender-neutral, but cognition-neutral, combining all three of our third-person pronouns: he, she, and it, into one general third-person verb-ending.

    Unfortunately, deliberate cultural and lingual engineering is very difficult and rarely successful.

  4. Robert,+not+Bob says

    I do recall quite a lot of annoyed complaining about “Ms.”, but of course the level of general hysteria was a low lower then.

  5. says

    I’m in the process of developing languages for the fantasy cultures in a story I’m writing, and it is interesting how the little things in a language can really tip off what is important to the culture.

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