I think it worthwhile pointing out that the deliberate misuse of pronouns is often a specific instance of misgendering. But not every case of misgendering is pronoun "abuse".

In almost all content on Stack Exchange, the gender of people do not matter. There are almost no pronouns being used in the community. It's a large irrelevant detail.

In discussions where the gender of someone actually matters, it's not likely that a rule around pronoun use is going to help the community. After all, there are an almost unlimited number of ways one can misgender somebody while using correct pronouns.

A rule against misgendering; however, is more likely to provide benefit, as it covers a wider area of inappropriate behaviour.

This fascination with pronouns has missed the mark significantly. It has brought concepts such as neopronouns front and center, when it should have always been about members of the community respecting each other.

Expressed differently, I think it's one thing to say

"No, zir is a ridiculous word and I refuse to use it"

and quite another to go

"No, you were born female, therefore you are a her".

The conflation of the two benefits nobody.

I feel this question may be answered, or at least partially answered by some answers to other questions, but I think I'm missing some key aspect on why pronouns needs special treatment, and way the CoC needs to mandate behaviour around pronouns, but remain silent on other forms of misgendering.

I don't deny the fact that I may be missing some key aspect of pronouns that make them especially problematic for the community.

I suppose what I'm really asking for is answers that go: "Yes, as..." or "No, because...".


1 Answer 1



For people having differing views and belief systems to exist peacefully within a community mutual compromises are often necessary. Explicitly saying that someone's (neo-)pronouns are ridiculous would be rude, but avoiding using them silently and falling back to gender-neutral language is a very reasonable stance. I, for instance, have objections to using neo-pronouns on philosophical (and practical) grounds which I have strong feelings about; some people have objections on religious grounds, some people find them weird, etc. I can assure you that most people's objections to this aren't rooted in malice.

The fact that the CoC doesn't allow you to fall back to gender-neutral language once the other person has explicitly stated their (neo-)pronouns is what a major part of the backlash is about (in the sense that it's 'compelled speech'). The only alternative is not participating at all...which doesn't make it any less compelled in my dictionary. Thereby, the CoC allows one side to be absolutely uncompromising in their demands and the other side has to strictly adhere to the code and consciously modify their language even if they're uncomfortable about it, or else they're on thin ice.

Respect in some sense means 'empathy' and in another, it means 'submission to authority'. People who demand the latter kind of respect often don't show the former kind of respect to others while judging their worldviews and mistakes. And this apparently seems to be Stack Exchange's current position.

  • 3
    You say "someone's neo-pronouns", but I'm under the impression they are just all different versions of a gender neutral singular pronoun? I don't think it's rude to call an "eggplant" a ridiculous name for an aubergine. But maybe this analogy is a bad one? Oct 22, 2019 at 13:11
  • 8
    You may think it's a "reasonable stance" but not using some people's pronouns while continuing to use others because of some a belief or opinion that you hold is othering; it's not inclusive behaviour. Gender-neutral language is used to refer to language that doesn't exclude people from a group by avoiding gendered words and pronouns when referring to the group or an exemplar of that group (e.g. "a developer and his laptop"). When you are referring to a known individual with known pronouns, there is no "neutral".
    – CB Bailey
    Oct 22, 2019 at 13:28
  • @CBBailey I think what you're saying makes a lot of sense. But does that hold for neopronouns too? Oct 22, 2019 at 13:32
  • 5
    While we're at bad analogies: The attempt of making the site more inclusive by dictating certain pronouns is like preventing people from being beaten up with baseball bats by forcing others to only play soccer: Even in the very unlikely best case scenario, it could only eventually solve one overly specific symptom of a problem, but not the problem itself (edit. more clearly: One can be "disrespectful", "non-inclusive" and "hostile" even with the ""right"" pronouns - that's simply not the point).
    – Marco13
    Oct 22, 2019 at 13:40
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    A correlated issue is that, like the retweet of "If you're against the CoC, then you're the problem", many people seem to think if you're not all in, then you're all out. Lots of smart people on this site, but not all of them are reasonable. "I can assure you that most people's objections to this aren't rooted in malice" and I can assure you that if you disagree there are people who will be convinced it's rooted in malice with no additional evidence required.
    – John
    Oct 22, 2019 at 13:51
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    @CBBailey, "known individual[s] with known pronouns" are known. The anonymity of the internet ensures that we usually don't. To force proper pronouns in a social setting would be understandable; forcing them in a medium where "known" is usually a big question mark is weird, and well... forced. We're commenting on a post from "user437611" therefore... them. You're CB, or initials, therefore unknown, therefore them.
    – John
    Oct 22, 2019 at 16:55
  • @John: I don't understand what you mean by your last sentence "You're CB, or initials, therefore unknown, therefore them"? What do you mean by "unknown"?
    – CB Bailey
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:17
  • @CBBailey "unknown" means that from the name alone, one cannot derive the pronouns, and John settles for the "default, generic them" then - which coincidentally (!) matches your request as of your profile, but might cause an outcry by others...
    – Marco13
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:28
  • @CBBailey, I mean it's impossible to tell a person's gender by their initials, whereas by their first name you will normally get a pretty good idea.
    – John
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:38
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    @John: My first name is CB, and you really cannot tell what my pronouns are from my name. That's why they are in my profile if you need them.
    – CB Bailey
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:42
  • @CBBailey, No you cannot. I happened to read your profile and I shouldn't mess them up since they're what I'd use anyway.
    – John
    Oct 22, 2019 at 17:46
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    @CBBailey I'm going to go ahead and bring it back to the core point that policing others on what they're not saying is at odds with human rights. North Korea is the only example I can think of where this is official policy, where the Chairman informs the people that a lack of positive action will not be tolerated, and that he is able to understand their mere intent. If you are unable to find a balance between rights, then your position is quite weak in my opinion. You are basically asserting that the right to be called zir is far, far, far, far greater than the right to personal autonomy. Oct 23, 2019 at 13:12
  • @TheAnathema: I'm not sure you have the correct @, or if you do I think you've read something into one of my comments that is not there.
    – CB Bailey
    Oct 23, 2019 at 15:04
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    @CBBailey I'm simply sharing the other side of othering, non-inclusive behaviour. If someone has any claim on autonomy for strong ideas, beliefs, religious views, spiritual views, etc, and they either a) Take issue with using a pronoun they don't feel like using (i.e. zir, etc) or b) Using an explicit pronoun rather than OP, username, you, or they, then they should be allowed not to do so. Saying otherwise is contradictory to literally every walk of life that you know of. The right to one's voice and conscience is a right recognized by most of the world governments. Oct 23, 2019 at 21:55

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