A note from the editor-in-chief: The pronoun problem

Since I began writing for The Lamron, I've been irked with one of the requirements of Associated Press Style (the journalism version of MLA or APA): the rule that when selecting a third-person singular pronoun for a non-specified personified noun, newspapers are supposed to select the masculine pronoun, "he."

Some of you may have noticed that this year, articles which require the use of a third-person singular pronoun use "he or she" or "his or her" or some variant. This was a conscious decision to go against AP Style in order to be more inclusive and to push back against the misogyny inherent in the convention. But something still didn't feel right to me as I made the edits in numerous articles. I felt like I was leaving something out.

And so I was. By insisting that we use "he or she," I was certainly being more inclusive but I was still using language wrapped up in assumptions that gender and sex (which are not synonymous) exist as a binary. As such, individuals who would identify in a way which isn't captured by this binary language would be linguistically – and therefore epistemologically, if language is a reflection of thought – excluded by this ostensibly more inclusive phrase.

So we're going to try something different. In ordinary spoken language, multitudes of English speakers already use the plural pronoun "they" as a singular pronoun. We are going to do the same from now on in The Lamron. "They" is not a gender- or sex-specific pronoun and therefore can include identities that are not included in the he-she binary.

Some may reasonably object, "Why not just re-word the sentences which use singular pronouns to use plural pronouns? That way you avoid the problem of choosing between exclusive language and grammatically incorrect usage." Such an objection may go so far as to claim that to insist on using a grammatically incorrect pronoun, the newspaper is being needlessly political.

Well, I have to respond that there is indeed a political point being made, and that, yes, as editor-in-chief I have decided that The Lamron will be intentionally making a political point through this "abuse" of grammar. We could certainly change the sentences to avoid the problem, but that doesn't do any of the work of actually addressing the need for a word in our language that acts as a truly gender- and sex-neutral singular pronoun. We want to actively address the problem, not avoid it by restructuring sentences.  

If any individual in the campus community would like to offer their views or help us figure out better ways to address this issue, I encourage them to contact us. We want to learn and grow.