Calvin Robinson is a former Conservative candidate, and political commentator.
Pronouns are such a non-issue. They’re the perfect example of the culture wars being exacerbated by the imagination of both sides of the debate. On the liberal-progressive Left, activists think they’re showing their virtue of inclusivity by announcing their pronouns in their bios, and on the conservative Right, we often feel like we’re being attacked or having woke nonsense shoved down our throats by social justice warriors, but is this an area where we’re both wrong?
Has any research been conducted into pronouns and how they affect the tiny minority they’re supposed to “include”? How often are people truly offended by someone using an incorrect pronoun for a person who identifies as transgender or non-binary? I imagine the number is infinitesimal, but I can’t find any hard evidence outside of ideological activist groups to back this up, either way. Could it be that we’re inventing an issue that doesn’t exist in order for the Left to virtual signal and the Right to campaign against?
Pronoun declarations have shifted from social media bios to professional email signatures. A quick search of my inbox for “he/him” and “she/her” shows a high number of results for civil servants, BBC employees, and academics at universities from Oxford University to Oxford Brookes.
When writing emails to someone, when do we ever refer to that person as he/him or she/her, anyway? Third-person pronouns rarely come up in conversation around a person in real life unless one is being rude. My grandmother would always say, “Who is she, the cat’s mother?” if I referred to someone by their pronoun instead of their name – but using the third person pronoun in an email is even rarer. The absence of body language to point out who you might be referring to makes it difficult. The whole pronoun situation is such a non-issue; it’s surprising to see how rapidly it has been taken up by the metropolitan elite: civil servants, academics and the mainstream media.
The Scottish government is now jumping on the bandwagon, pushing a “pronoun pledge” to encourage civil servants to include their pronouns in their email signatures. However, a consultation poll resulted in a vast majority (60 per cent) of respondents expressing their discomfort with the idea of having to declare their pronouns.
Could it be that an approach to appear inclusive to the minority is exclusive to the majority? Less than one per cent of the UK population identifies as trans, and while it’s important to ensure minority groups feel welcome, that should not come at the expense of the majority. Coercing people to display their pronouns could be tantamount to gender discrimination – a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010.
Then there’s the issue of made-up pronouns such as zie/zirself, ze/zem, xe/xem, which nobody outside of the exclusive trans-community knows what they mean. Is that the purpose? To design a community that is so exclusive that by default, everyone else is written off as bigoted and backward in their views?
Activist groups like Mermaids and Stonewall appear to have an agenda that you either subscribe to unquestioning or you’re cancelled for being transphobic; this approach is antagonistic and unhelpful to the small community they purport to support.
The debate around trans rights is a genuine and important one; who gets to identify as which gender is a prevalent debate in schools, sport and the criminal justice system, for example. But this is not that debate. We must not fall into the trap of conflating trans issues with pronouns in bios.
This attempt to compel people to use trans-lobby language in one’s email signatures is often portrayed by my colleagues on the Right as authoritarian – I wouldn’t go that far, it’s quite common for companies to have an email signature policy, that’s just good etiquette (or “Netiquette”), but this is just a distraction from the real battle that’s going on; the erasure of women from our culture.
The question isn’t should we include he/him or she/her in our email signatures; the important question to be asking is why are we allowing boys in our girls’ changing rooms, why are we allowing men in women’s prisons, and why are we called ‘phobics for raising these questions and wanting to protect the rights of woman and girls?