I recently had a client ask me to review their employee policies that had been drafted by a co-op student. Throughout the document the term “his/her” had been replaced with “hir”. At first I thought this student, like my children when they text, had created a strange word to describe employees generally. When I questioned my client about the word I was told that this the new way of describing both sexes in a way that is gender neutral. Sure enough, when I looked up the word on the internet, Wikipedia defines the term as a “gender neutral pronoun”.
Now, I consider myself to be a feminist – I kept my last name when I got married, my bank account is separate from my husband’s, I believe in equal rights between the sexes and I hope that I am teaching my four kids (two girls and two boys – told you I believe in equality!!) that men and women should be treated equally except when it comes to taking out the garbage (sorry guys but that’s just gross and we got stuck with childbirth). I also don’t consider myself to be overly political – I don’t write letters to the editor of my local paper over the various injustices I read about and I don’t tend to get too excited about what is going on in the world – there is enough excitement in my own life that requires my attention and energy. Having said all this – I do feel compelled to express my thoughts about this new word that strikes me as completely unnecessary. Is it simply a sign of our times that people are too lazy to use “him/her” when writing? If so, then why not just write “their” or “they” or “them”. Do we really need a new word in our vocabulary to describe a group of people without reference to gender, especially one that makes me feel like I should be clicking my heels and saluting a nasty red and black flag?
When I was in law school, there was a group of what I will call “extreme” feminists who would not use the term “person” because it contained the word “son”. Instead, they called people “perpers”. Fortunately, that term didn’t catch on….hopefully “hir” will meet the same fate as people come to appreciate that we don’t need more gender neutral terms to create gender equality. Until then, I will stick to “his/her” – or perhaps “her/his” to show my solidarity!!