A Possessive Proposal for Feminists

PossessiveI work as an editor, so forgive me beforehand for bringing up something(s) rather grammatical (i.e., not important to most people). But the unnecessary and clunky construction of the politically correct neutral third person singular pronoun really bothers me. Let me unpack that a little.

The following sentence used to be correct: “I’m talking about grammar and stuff, so everyone needs to hang on to his hat.” But feminists decided that sentence was sexist, so they proposed the following: “I’m talking about grammar and stuff, so everyone needs to hang on to his or her hat.” This sentence is more explicit about its gender inclusiveness, but, as you can see, it is less elegant than its more “sexist” predecessor. The other option, a grammatically incorrect one, is: “. . . Everyone needs to hang on to their hat.” Ugh. I almost couldn’t let that sentence stand even for illustrative purposes. Yes, I know that means I have a psychological disorder of some kind. But just wait, it gets worse (my condition, of course). Oh, and if you’re wondering (which you probably aren’t), “their” is not grammatically correct because it is plural whereas “everyone” is singular.

What’s the rub? Ultimately, this “problem” exists because the neutral (i.e., non gender specific) third-person singular pronoun is … masculine. In other words, English, unlike some other languages, does not have a special set of pronouns for gender-neutral or gender-inclusive circumstances. I think this is a throwback to the fact that men usually represented their families as “heads of household,” so their representative capacity was reflected in language (e.g., “mankind,” “all men are created equal,” etc.). This wasn’t an exclusion of women, but an inclusion of women (and children) within a federal system of representation.

This is further emphasized by the fact that women (and children) traditionally took (and take) their husband’s last name as their own. Women are linguistically and legally represented by their husbands or fathers. Feminists hate this kind of representative patriarchal stuff, and I for one am perfectly willing to change out “mankind” for “humankind” and “all men” for “all people” if it makes them happy (which it won’t). But I just can’t bring myself to do the “he or she,” “he/she,” “his or her” thing. It’s just ugly and unnecessary. And … drumroll, please … I think I have found at least one very commonly used language construct, which was at least at one time very connected to male representative headship (and ownership), that feminists have never tried to alter even in their own usage. Want to know what it is?

That’s what I thought. But I’m going to tell you anyway. Do you know why there is an apostrophe in the English possessive? An apostrophe normally indicates that some letters have been removed, and the mark stands in for those letters in most cases. I won’t go into the far reaches of Germanic etymology, but in the more recent sixteenth century, a folk etymology developed for the “apostrophe s” of possessives which assumed that they were a contraction of the word “his.” For this reason, many people, for a time, replaced the contracted form with what they thought was the more formal, protracted form (especially in legal documents). “King James’s majesty” became “King James His Majesty.” “John’s grammar” became “John his grammar.” Et cetera.

So after that brief lesson in grammar and etymology, I think you can see that feminists have really let one slip here. They use the same possessive (s) for both males and females even though Elizabethan Englishpeople (notice I did not say “Englishmen” out of deference) once believed the apostrophe-s to be a contraction of the singular masculine pronoun. Scholarly scandal! This just cannot stand.

So I have a possessive proposal to rectify the abuses women have had to endure at the hands of masculine linguistic representation. Starting immediately, all feminists should start using the possessive form r (for “her”) when referring to a woman’s (Uh … I mean “woman’r”) things. That’s right. The feminist her consistency and honor depends on it.

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