A Writer’s Desire For ‘Ze’

Posted by Aishwarya Chouhan in LGBTQ, Sexism And Patriarchy
December 25, 2016

Recently, as a part of my sporadic writing exercise, I was writing about parents and their relationship with their children. While doing this I tried to guard my writing against any form of patriarchy, by avoiding first, the use of ‘Parents’ by using ‘Parent(s)’ instead and secondly, by using the pronoun s/he and his/her together instead of he and his. This was done with the motive of being gender neutral by avoiding assumptions with regard to first, that the child would necessarily be brought up by two parents and that, s/he will always assume a male identity.

But while doing this there was one problem that I faced. It was my suspicions with regards to the grammatical correctness of my work. This was because of too many s/he and his/her finding space together many times in just one paragraph. This further made me apprehensive about the fact if it will confuse or act as an impediment in the reading of my reader. At that point, I hoped if there could have been a gender-neutral term that could have without discrimination addressed all the genders.

It is at that point that it struck me that how I myself, by compartmentalising ‘he and she’, was being sexist. By trying to provide representation and recognition to the other predominant gender other than the male, whose contributions and presence, whether socially or economically (GDP) goes unaccounted, I was, without a single thought, being disregardful towards the various other gender identities, i.e. – LGBTQI, by not providing any space for interpretation for the latter. It struck me how we in our society are not accustomed to including these other categorised people in our daily lives, by being blind-eyed to their existence, let alone to see them in the shoes of parents or children.

While my mind was going through all this questioning, I happened to share my thoughts on the same with one of my professors in college over breakfast. I started by addressing to him how exhilarated I was by the use of the term ‘Gentleperson’ by Prof. Upendra Baxi, instead of ‘Ladies and Gentleman’, when the other day he visited our college for panel discussion on the topic- ‘Pluralism and Human Rights: Dilemmas and Difficulties’. At that point I told him how I felt about the patriarchy in the usage of our everyday pronouns, to which he responded by telling me about the latest step that has been taken by the Oxford University in the league towards gender neutrality, by banning the use of the words ‘he’ and ‘she’, replacing it with ‘ze’ instead, as it was found to be hurting the sentiments of the people belonging to the genders other than the predominant the male and the female.

The University has now regarded the intentional misgendering of a transgender as an offence under its new code of conduct. But, it is important to clarify here that, the use of ‘ze’ shall not be a mandate over the use of ‘he’ or ‘she’ provided that the gender of the concerned person is known. The usage is supposed, and not restricted, to reference where the person chooses to be not categorised under the singular headings of male and female. Further, it is recommended to be used where the gender of the crowd is unknown and for the purpose of inclusivity any presumptions, with regards to the gender, are avoided. This move is also set to be imposed on the Cambridge University.

Though the word ‘Ze’ has not yet found place in the Oxford dictionary, the step taken by the University has in itself sent a strong message across the world towards the recognition of all the individuals by respecting their gender identities, which form an essential part of their personalities and existence.

The reference to this instance cannot be complete without reference to our Indianised version of such advancement. It is in 2015 when the NALSAR University became the first educational institution ever, to award a law degree to one of its students – Anindita Mukherjee, by using ‘Mx’, a gender-neutral honorific. This happened when Mukherjee requested the authorities to not identify zer with any of the genderised honorifics of male or female, i.e. – Mr. /Ms. In zer own words ze said– “I felt that there was no reason why my transcript needed to mention my gender. Besides, law universities are the spaces where we are constantly discussing justice, rights and identity, so I wanted to see if the university would walk the talk on that point. Mx being a gender-neutral honorific that has been gaining traction, I asked if my transcript could refer to me as ‘Mx Anindita Mukherjee’ instead of ‘Ms Anindita Mukherjee’.”

Another such similar step, not so much on the lines of language, was taken in St Catherine’s College (source- ) of the Oxford University, when it had introduced gender neutral lavatories, i.e. – the toilets that could be used by anyone regardless of their gender. The doors of these washrooms carried the symbol that was a combination of the scientific symbols for the male and the female sex. This move was undertaken with the primary aim to provide washroom services to the genders other than the predominant ones, so that they could address nature’s call without feeling humiliation by being unable to access the male and the female washrooms.

It is an accepted principle that the language and the symbols that a society uses to refer to a certain section of its people are reflective of their relative position in that context. With such developments happening around us it would not be surreal for one to hope for gender equality in one’s lifetime.


Image source: Solomon Fletcher/Tumblr

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