Pitt inclusion guide: correct English is a social construct

The University of Pittsburgh is now teaching people how to be “gender-inclusive” and “non-sexist,” informing readers that the concept of "correct" English is merely a social construct.

The Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program website has published a “Gender Inclusive and Non-Sexist Language Guide and Resources” guide, which includes advice for classrooms and other spaces.

“Have you ever been called by a name or gender that you don’t identify with?” the guide begins, followed by declaring that, “[m]isgendering someone is disrespectful and dismissive.”

Choosing words intentionally and with care is offered as a way to avoid misgendering and “creating a sexist and homophobic environment.”

Another suggestion include taking accountability for an error when one “slip[s] up” before continuing the conversation. The guide assures readers that everyone will be thankful for the effort.

“Terms to Use to Avoid Sexist Language” are also included in an attempt to steer students away from using words like “mankind,” “chairman,” and “freshman.” Instead, they ought to be replaced with gender-neutral options such as “humankind,” “chair or chairperson,” and “first year student.”

In an attempt to “foster an inclusive community at Pitt,” gender-inclusive pronouns for the third person singular tense are also given, along with example sentences, such as, “Ze loves coffee!” “I asked zim to meet me in the library,” “I read zir book in my composition class,” and “Ze taught zirself to play the guitar.”

There are also several sections on “Key Things to Know” about sex, gender, and sexuality.

“The sex binary assumes that all bodies are easily assigned to one of two sex categories, male or female, even when sex asymmetries are present,” the guide warns, going on to note that “[c]ultural norms determine which physical characteristics are fundamental to legal sex category assignment.”

As for gender, that term “refers to individual and cultural understandings of behaviors, roles, feelings, and activities.” In fact, “biological factors do not [emphasis in original] determine gender.” Instead, American cultural norms are what links sex to gender.

“Gender is not the natural [emphasis in original] result of sex,” according to the guide. “Recognizing ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ as discrete categories allows us to affirm all gender expressions irrespective of assigned sex.”

Another “key thing to know” is “Cultural norms shape hierarchies of sexual acts and desires.” Though “numerous binaries exist” around sexual acts and desires, these hierarchies “foster discrimination and violence.”

There are also several answers to given to common objections made about “gender-inclusive/non-sexist language.” When told that such language is not correct, one can respond by saying that, “Correct is a social and ideological construction that only began to become conceivable, especially for English, in the 17th century.”

The argument made is that correctness is a way to socially evaluate different groups to determine who has learned the language of a certain group, based on things like race or class. Also, since language is always changing, moving along with the changes is important. Instead of waiting for individuals’ ideologies to catch up, changing what people say is better because it is “part of making the world a more equitable place for people who don’t feel they fit into the gender binary.”

When told their/them/they are not singular or do not “make sense,” people can say, “Neither does marking gender when it doesn’t describe the person described…. By this argument, we should bring back singular thou/thee/thine!”

Requesting or promoting changes to people’s language is not an imposition to free speech, the guide argues, nor is it political correctness.

“No one is ordering you to use this language. However some people are asking you to be considerate of their wishes and sensibilities,” the guide states. Instead, it’s about politeness.

“You are free to not use this language (it is merely a suggestion)... You are also free to criticize the way someone is dressed,” the guide declares, “but then most people would probably think you are rude. Isn’t it nice to have a little guidance about how to be considerate and polite?”

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