After the weekend, I’ll be back with a follow up to the post on my progress towards tenure, and I’ll try to address some of the substantive and thought-provoking comments that you all have raised. But, here in the States, it’s already a holiday weekend, and so for today, I’ll punt and take on a side issue from that comment thread.
Comrade Physioprof commented:
“hir” is a total …abomination! It is so …distracting it totally ruins the flow of reading, because it is NOT A REAL …WORD!
In terms of identifiability of an anonymous individual, how much difference does a factor of two make in the likelihood of identifying the person? And if you really think it makes a difference, for the love of god, just use “his or her”. [Use your imagination to fill in the ellipses.]
Dear Comrade Physioprof,
It’s taken me a long time to come to hir, because I felt similarly to you when I first saw it used. But, there is a rich history of use by people trying to solve the English-language gender neutral pronoun problem, and gender theorists like Kate Bornstein have used hir in their work.
But for me, using hir is a way of acknowledging the maleness of my field, without completely negating any possible female presence. If I said that my graduate students are women, it would still mark them as something special…as others in an impossibly male field. Given the number of women graduate students in the geosciences, identifying a student as female increases her identifiability not by a factor of 2, but by a factor of 3 to 5. If said that my graduate students are men, it would be an implicit acceptance of the “fact” that only men make proper geoscientist and even a woman who has made it to the junior PI stage can only be expected to produce male academic heirs.
(If you still doubt the maleness of my particular specialty, consider the phone conversation I was having while you were commenting. My co-author and I were discussing potential reviewers for an about-to-be-submitted manuscript. We came up with a list of 12 people, 0 are women. Of the 70 first authors in the paper’s reference list, there are 6 women. One is me. Three are collaborators.)
By using hir, I can take my students’ genders out of the equation and just let them be who they are. In the context of my post, they are simply human beings that I am trying to shepherd through graduate school for the sake of their careers and my own.
As far as grammatical correctness is concerned, hir is infinitely preferable to the old gender-obfuscating use of the singular “they” and its a lot easier to write than “his or her.” It’s also got a special place in my heart, because ScienceGrandma once told me that when I was in utero, my parents called me “Herm” since my gender was unknown in the days before routine ultrasound.
And finally, dearest physioprof, criticizing my use of non-old school English is awfully rich from someone who introduced me to half the terms in the urban dictionary. Eleventy!!!!1!1111!!!!!!