When many of us were first learning how to use pronouns, it seemed unlikely that they’d ever be at the center of public debate. After all, the whole thing is pretty straightforward. John gets “he,” while Jane gets “she.” It wasn’t really rocket science, right?
Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that these days. At one university, that complication is being codified — students’ grades will suffer if they fail to use the approved language:
Students at Hull University are being told to use gender neutral language in their essays — or risk losing marks.
According to documents obtained by the Sunday Times, students are told to “be aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations. Failure to use gender-sensitive language will impact your mark.”
The document, which was released following a Freedom of Information request, was part of a course on religious activism being taught at the university.
A senior lecturer in religion at the university said: “Should any student use language which is not deemed gender-neutral, they will be offered feedback as to why. Deduction of marks is taken on a case-by-case basis.”
Some academics are taking issue with this, calling it “linguistic policing” and recognizing the fact that it seeks to punish people for failing to conform to an idea that is controversial.
Other schools have urged such language, but few actually put forth campus-wide sanctions for failing to comply. Perhaps students should be thankful that Hull is only demanding “gender-neutral” language, rather than requiring absurd pronouns like “xe” and “xer.”
Unfortunately, the handwriting has been on the wall for some time. Hull may be one of the first, but absent sufficient pushback on this, it will not be the last. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Worse yet, it will fester and infect the lower grades until pronouns like “he” and “she” will be antiquated relics of a bygone era.
If that happens, it will become encoded in our language and it’s unlikely we’ll ever shake it loose.
For those that approve such things, that’s a feature, not a bug. For the rest of us, it’s an effort to impose their will on us through language.