Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Topsy-Turvy World of Male vs. Female Pronoun Usage

While for most of my life I've considered the use of the male pronoun "he" as opposed to the female equivalent "she" to be a matter of course, our class discussions of late have caused me to reexamine my views. As a young child within the admittedly conservative environment of a Catholic school, my fellow students and I were taught that there was no situation in formal writing where the substitution of "she" for "he" would be appropriate (and the nuns teaching us had no problem driving that point home with their yardsticks). So, over time, one could say that I became conditioned to drop the female pronoun "she" from my formal writing altogether.
However, after reading Felski and reflecting on her frequent use of "she" where I would reflexively use the pronoun "he," it seems to me that her overall implication encourages her readers to consider the marginalization of female authors and audiences that my original training has led me to perpetuate. Considering all of this (and hopefully without engaging in too much of a debate on semantics), I am left with the questions: "Am I truly being gender-insensitive when I use "he" anytime "she" would serve just as well? And is my old-school thinking and writing style indicative of a deeper chauvinism that has been subtly built into my psyche, or am I just working within the confines of my earliest instruction in the art of writing?"

...Thoughts from the peanut gallery, anyone?

-Josh Mitchell

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