The "They" Pronoun

Recently, I unfortunately stumbled across this tweet.

Screenshot from James Woods Twitter.

While I did the right thing and didn’t engage in an open conversation with anyone interacting with this tweet (because I know how to pick and choose my battles accordingly), I did want to challenge myself to find a means of responding to this tweet in an educated way. So here’s my response to James Woods’s tweet:

As someone who never thought to ask for pronoun clarification prior to coming to college, and who honestly felt uncomfortable at first using “they” for a singular person because it seemingly messed with my proper English, I can understand the confusion and the discomfort.

Using a gender neutral pronoun in the English language when you have grown up unaware that this was an option, would likely lead to these feelings. But, acknowledging that your own discomfort is valid is an important and necessary step; Then, acknowledge that a pronoun preference is central to the identity of someone else -  even though it may be different from your preference - and even more important. Channeling that discomfort into making yourself more conscious and respectful of others is one of the most mature things that can be done.

So, back to the tweet. While I could go on a tangent about how “they” has been used throughout history as a genderless, singular pronoun (shown here on the third definition), or how the singular use of “they” has developed in the same way that “you” has developed into a plural noun at times or how “they” makes up where English is lacking in possessing a gender neutral pronoun (this article explains it very well) even though many other languages possess a gender neutral pronoun for those who are non-conforming, I won’t.

Although all of these reasons can be used to debunk Woods’s tweet, I won’t try to reason with someone who clearly doesn’t have respect for other humans’ identities. Instead, I will focus on what is even more important than debunking the tweet—and that is highlighting the fact that while this tweet comes off as being a means of educating the people of Twitter, it is rather a message rooted in hate and exclusion on so many levels.

First, Woods uses condescending language to imply he is educating people who are not as smart as him. Second, he simplifies gender to being either “he” or “she” despite the fact that many other languages allow for a genderless pronoun for people and objects—not to mention the fact that there are many people who do not identify as male or female. Third, he says “hare-brained liberals” are bullying others, but from my understanding, including people and respecting their identities isn’t a “liberal” thing but rather a “decent human being” thing. Meaning that this “bullying” he is referring to is us simply allowing for people to be included (especially those who don’t fit into the male or female binaries). That doesn’t sound like bullying, does it?

So while this tweet has its fair share of incorrect statements, it’s more important to acknowledge the hateful and exclusionary nature of tweeting such a divisive thing. Even if this tweet was meant to educate, and even if “they” could only be used as a plural noun, the tweet is still rooted in the idea of invalidating the feelings of people who do not conform to the binary, and thus is further fueling the hate toward those who push the binary.

So, be kind out there, people. And while you’re at it, let me educate you:

The correct pronoun usage in the English language is “he” for a singular male and “she” for a singular female. “They” is used for the plural of either males, females, both or for a singular person whose gender is neither male or female. Don’t be bullied by an exclusive, cisgendered male.