Now that it’s 2017, it’s time for everyone to get used to the fact that gendered pronouns can exclude and offend people. England’s Hull University now requires that students use gender neutral pronouns if they want to make the grade. It’s actually a really good way to prep people for the actual real world, where using gender neutral pronouns isn’t about being politically correct — it’s about treating people equally.
It’s not a campus-wide policy, but many instructors include a disclaimer on their syllabus warning students that non-inclusive language will hurt their grade. If anything, using gender neutral pronouns is just good grammar. One religion professor told The Sunday Times, a local newspaper, that, “language is important and highly symbolic.”
Pretty straightforward. It won’t be an automatic fail if someone writes “mankind” in a term paper, but the use of gendered language will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The professor explained:
Of course, there are critics of the new trend. A professor at Kent University claimed that making students use gender neutral pronouns is a way to push a political ideology. But if anything, the use of gendered language can be more oppressive than neutral language.
Language is a symbolic resource, and words are rarely neutral. Dr. Lia Litosseliti, a senior lecturer in linguistics at City, University of London told The Guardian:
Recently, the Associated Press changed its guidelines about using gender neutral language. The rule used to be that when gender was unknown, journalists should use “he.” But the copy editing organization know requires that using “they” be the go-to when it comes to talking about a person, and of course, if gender is important to the piece, to reword and clarify.
That has also long been the standard in most academic writing or in conversation. For example, using “police officers,” instead of “policeman” is just more accurate, and makes more sense, when describing the job in general.
Language matters when it comes to representation and equality, so any steps taken by schools to get people used to cultural changes are more than welcome.