1. I will stop using the plural pronouns their, them, and they to refer to a single subject without a defined gender.
I don’t even know you, but I know you are guilty of this (because I am):
When an employee gets a new computer, they have to set up their preferences.
I picked a name for the Secret Santa gift exchange, but I don’t know what to get them.
Grammatically, these sentences are awful, though they are not uncommon in today’s vernacular. Note how the verb in the second part of the first sentence also becomes plural even though it’s clearly a single person the sentence is referring to in the first part. *Shudder*
Traditionally, English uses the pronoun he to refer to any person whose gender is unknown. In the sentences above, an employee and a name both refer to a single person whose gender is not specified. However, our culture is changing, and we no longer accept he or other male-gendered pronouns and nouns to serve as defaults because we feel it’s sexist. Our culture has changed, but our language has not; there are no gender neutral singular pronouns with the exception of it¸ and we don’t use the word it in reference to people. It’s rude. Only animals and things can be its.
So what are we to do? The proper way to deal with this is to use his or her, him or her, he or she."
All in favour of making ‘their, them and they’ grammatically canon, raise your hands!
*raises hands and shakes them furiously*
I might swing violently from one side of the gender spectrum to the other depending on how much it does or doesn’t offend me to be called ‘her’ on any given day, but I still feel like I’ll always be a proponent of ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun. Yeah, it might not be grammatically correct, but language is a fickle beast… It’ll change eventually, right?
If not ‘they’, we have to resort to made-up or borrowed pronouns that are conspicuous in themselves—wouldn’t it be much easier and more pleasant to be able to refer to someone you may or may not know in such a way that doesn’t make assumptions about their gender (or doesn’t draw everyone else’s attention to their gender identity if you happen to be in the know about it)?
I’m a stickler when it comes to decent grammar nine times out of ten, but this is one occasion where I’m happy to be pretty darn ungrammatical.
Please note: I’m not calling the author out for being cissexist or anything like that, as I seriously doubt that was their intention. I just think it’d be nice to live in a world where the average person didn’t automatically think of ‘he’ or ‘she’ when it came to gender. It’d be nice, too, if electing to refer to yourself by something other than either of those two pronouns didn’t cause you to stick out like a sore thumb.