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Author Topic: Use of Gender Pronouns  (Read 19010 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: December 09, 2002, 11:19:02 PM »

Quote from: Emily Care
"Do" use both pronouns in examples of play when refering to players, gms and all game participants. (This one makes a difference for me when I read a game, at least.)

If I wait twelve hours before responding to this, it will mean twenty-four hours certainly, because I'm only here once a day; and then it will mean I won't respond at all, because I won't read the old post again and I won't remember it. But that thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4433&start=120">Sexism and Gaming) is on hold, and this is, or could be, a divergent topic, so I'll pick up this issue in a new thread.

To me, it's a linguistics thing. Maybe Proto-Hittite was a sexist language. The fact is, in the vast majority of languages that have descended from it the masculine pronoun is the gender-neutral one for persons. That is, "he" implies an antecedent that is a person, while "she" implies an antecedent that is a woman.

Having been trained to this all my life, when I read the word "he" and don't recall an immediate antecedent, I take it as referring to some person who fits the description; but when I read "she" and don't recall an immediate antecedent, the flow of the text is disrupted as my mind races back to try to determine what person who cannot be male this references.

Thus I find books written with this reverse bias in the pronouns very difficult to read, and I won't wade through them.

I don't view it as being sexist or politically incorrect; I view it as being grammatically correct. It's like reading forum posts filled with typos and bad spelling and horribly flawed construction. It's like reading game books with similar problems. It's like reading something written by someone unfamiliar with the rules of English language.

My wife has the same problem, incidentally; she even has it at times when reading trade journals that sometimes do it--she's a nurse, and even though the majority of nurses are indeed "she" she finds it offensive and sexist that the feminine pronoun is so frequently used when there is no antecedent other than "the nurse". She does not find it sexist for "the nurse" to be referenced as "he" any more than for the doctor to be referenced as "he"; and she knows some excellent female doctors.

Now that I've upset Emily at least, let me suggest that there is a way to solve this. We did it when we wrote the text of Multiverser. If you don't have a specific antecedent for a pronoun, stick to the traditional masculine gender; but when you can, use females in your examples so that you've got a feminine antecedent for a feminine pronoun. It's not so hard, really. Give the person in the example a name, and then reference them as female thereafter, and the entire linguistic problem evaporates. Those who think emphasis on masculine pronouns is sexist have feminine pronouns prevalent in the text; those more strictly rigorous about traditional rules of grammar have their antecedent.

The examples don't always have to be feminine; they don't always have to be masculine. But in the same way that I cringe when I read "He dose a good job" or "he woked up the dragon", so too I (and many others) react to the misuse of pronoun gender as bad writing.

--M. J. Young
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2002, 11:52:04 PM »

My trick is pretty easy, and hopefully fair to both sexes: I always assume, when writing, that the players - unless otherwise stated in an example - are male, and the GM female. I do this because - to be honest - the male pronoun is more used and easier for me to remember to use when writing a game. The GM, however, strikes me as a powerful role (socially, as well as in the game - the GM usually organizes the game), and so by using the feminine pronoun for it, I manage to try to treat both sexes equally.

Exceptions do apply: I used one iconic female character for all of Paladin. The reason was simple: I created a character, liked her very much, though she was a great character, both dramatically and as a female, and so I used her for the whole game. You'll notice that she's in nearly every piece of art, as well.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2002, 01:15:39 AM »

I do avoid use of the male-specific pronoun; once you stop thinking of it as "normal" it is justas jarring to find a woman referenced without the appropriate antecedent.  I also note that people using the male pronoun often switch inconsistently; i.e. they would adress a haridresser whose genmder has hitherto been unspecified as she, even though their own system indicates they should use he.

I just wanted to mention that I was intrigued to see the alternative definition thread had three different default pronouns in use; male-only, female-nly and plural.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2002, 06:44:18 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
I just wanted to mention that I was intrigued to see the alternative definition thread had three different default pronouns in use; male-only, female-nly and plural.

Since about the time Vampire: the Masquerade came out, I've struggled to reach the gender neutral pronoun in English: the plural.  Not only that, but we're overlooking the impersonal pronoun: it.  It works and once you get used to it is almost transparent.

That way I'd write...
    At this point the gamemaster should make sure they aren't stepping on anyone's Mystiques.  The importance of validating a Persona's Mystiques cannot be overrated.  If it loses its Mystiques, why would a player want to play their Persona?[/list:u]Does that make you eyes 'trip' as though there are typographical errors?

    Fang Langford
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contracycle
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« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2002, 07:05:06 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
Does that make you eyes 'trip' as though there are typographical errors?


I've been using it for oh, 15 years, and I have only ever been made of aware of one person who picked it up.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2002, 07:26:09 AM »

Some people are put off by the "they" technique, especially when the anteceedent is patently singular. But there are ways around that if you aren't lazy.

This example:
Quote
At this point the gamemaster should make sure they aren't stepping on anyone's Mystiques. The importance of validating a Persona's Mystiques cannot be overrated. If it loses its Mystiques, why would a player want to play their Persona?


Becomes:
Quote
At this point the gamemaster should make sure not to step on anyone's Mystiques. The importance of validating a Persona's Mystiques cannot be overrated. Players rarely like playing a persona without Mystiques.


Same content. I'm sure some better writer could even improve it further. Essentially, there is never a reason to include a pronoun if you don't want to. So don't. Just rewrite the sentence without them. This is, to my knowledge, the best writing solution of all.

BTW, it was suggeted to me by somebody who I cannot now remember (Nadav, maybe?). Anyhow, thanks whoever you were.

Mike
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2002, 07:32:15 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
Since about the time Vampire: the Masquerade came out, I've struggled to reach the gender neutral pronoun in English: the plural.


This is one of those situations where instinct triumphs over correct grammer.  People are so used to plurals as gender-neutral singulars that it's easy to go that route.  Still, you have to proof-read that stuff very, very carefully, since the intentional use of incorrect grammer can often lead to other grammatical errors that aren't intentional.  Or, when you switch from a plural-pretending-to-be-singular to a real plural ("Any player can do X whenever they want to, but the other players are perfectly able to oppose them in this.") you can confuse the hell out of people.
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lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2002, 07:35:22 AM »

People using "they" as a gender-nuetral singular pronoun makes me insane, but not quite as insane as people misusing apostrophe's [sic].

I use female pronouns almost exclusively, and I blame Douglas Hoffstadter.

-Vincent
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2002, 07:41:14 AM »

Unfortunately this question has no solution, and has been argued about for decades.

While it is true that at some point in the history of the language, "he" was used to refer to a person of unspecified gender, it can be argued that this assumption is no longer valid for modern English.  However, I'm not going to get into that debate.

A few months ago I did some research on this subject, and here's a summary of what I discovered:

Some people use "them" "they" and "their" as a gender-neutral alternative. i.e. "If you love someone, set them free."

Of course, grammar-hounds object to this because it violates the rules, i.e. "someone" is a singular subject and should have a singular pronoun "he" or "she".

Of course, that particular "rule" originated in the 1800s when scholarly writers tried to make English adhere to the rules of Latin grammar.  (This period also originated the "rule" that sentences must not end in prepositions, BTW.)

Are the Latinate rules valid?  Well, at this point that's a moot question because they've been around and have been adhered to in scholarly circles so long that they have become a part of the language.  As a result using "they", "them", and "their" as singular pronouns will jar the eyes of some readers.  (Despite the fact that in speech, these pronouns are used as singular all the time.)

Some advocate the use of invented singular gender-neutral pronouns.  The only ones I can remember at the moment are "ey", "em", and 'eir" (remove the "th" from the plural pronouns) but there are several others out there.  As to how widespread the usage of these is, I don't know.  Whether or not this approach is valid depends on who you ask.

Then, of course, there's the tried and true (but IMO really annoying) "he/she", "him/her", etc.

In the end, the only thing a writer can do is pick the least of the myriad possible evils, and be consistent with it.
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Paganini
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« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2002, 07:41:43 AM »

Gareth: Yes, it makes my eyes trip. In fact, it does more than that. It makes me go "ACK! NOE! BAHD GRAMUR! BAD GRAMUR!"

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Some people are put off by the "they" technique, especially when the anteceedent is patently singular. But there are ways around that if you aren't lazy.


Yup, Mike nailed it. If you write everything in plural, the whole problem is avoided. It can be awkward sometimes, so I don't follow it as a rigorous rule, but it is a useful technique.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2002, 08:21:59 AM »

The 'it' thing makes my eyes flip out and kill. The overuse of plurals does to - sooner or later, it's used incorrectly. (There's always 'one,' but 'one rolls the dice to find out characteristics' makes you sound like the Game Design Zen Master.)

Mike nailed it with a technique I use often, and can't believe I didn't mention earlier: just don't use pronouns unless you're referring to a specific person. Saying, "The player does..." is just as easy as "He does..." or "she does...".
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
damion
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Posts: 198


« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2002, 08:40:07 AM »

Well, I'm going to agree with Fang, even few others do. Maybe that says something.  Oh well, yes, you can rewrite sentances to avoid using a pronoun (which is kinda the point), but that tends to hurt the text flow, and become irritatingly redundant.  I never liked 'it', but the random switching never bothered me, at least no more than text totally devoid of pronouns would.



Probably there is no solution, although I like Clinton's idea, any females want to comment on it, as to how acceptable it is?
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James
Clay
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2002, 08:48:36 AM »

I prefer to spend a lot of time not worrying about it. If someone is put off because I used a male pronoun for the neuter case, their list of objections about a man who likes straight wiskey, straight women and large guns is probably going to be too long to overcome.

Not being able to change the situation, I choose to save my worry for the things I can change (like my lousey grammer).
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Clay Dowling
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bluegargantua
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« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2002, 09:18:07 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes

Essentially, there is never a reason to include a pronoun if you don't want to. So don't. Just rewrite the sentence without them. This is, to my knowledge, the best writing solution of all.


*shakes head sadly*  No pronouns?  What kind of madness do you wish to unleash?  Have you forgotten the lessons of the old saga so soon?

I see I must refresh your memory....

The Saga of Pronouns

Now I have a Player named Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla,
And I could say that "Rufus made a sorcerer
That stood for Rufus in play
And now that sorcerer belongs...
To Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla."
Whew! I could say that, but I don't have to!
Because I got pronouns, I can say,
"He found a sorcerer that stands for him in play
And now it is his."
You see, "he", "him" and "his" are pronouns
Replacing the noun "Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla",
A very proper noun,
And "it" is a pronoun replacing the noun "sorcerer"!

Now Rufus has a sister named Rafaella Gabriela Sarsaparilla,
If she made a sorcerer I'd say to you
"She made a sorcerer that stands for her in play
And now it is hers."
But I can't say that...
'Cause she made a fighter
That represents her and they're so happy.

And my name is Albert Andreas Armadillo
{No relation to the Sarsaparillas...}
Because of pronouns I can say
"I wish she would make a halfling cleric for me,
And we'd be happy."
You see, a pronoun was made to take the place of a noun.
'Cause saying all those nouns over and over
Can really wear you down.

Now I could tell you "Rafaella Gabriela
and Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla and
Albert Andreas Armadillo made
A fighter, a sorcerer and a halfling cleric.
And now that fighter and that sorcerer
And that halfling belong respectively to:
Rafaella Gabriela Sarsaparilla
And Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla
And Albert Andreas Armadillo."
Whew!  Because of pronouns I can say, in this way,
"We made them and they reflect us,
And now they are ours and we're so happy!"
{Thank you pronoun!!}
You see, a pronoun was made to take the place of a noun.
'Cause saying all those nouns over and over
Can really wear you down.

Sometimes when we take them all on adventures,
NPCs really raise a fuss.
They start shouting out loud pronouns at us, like:
"*Who* let that halfling cleric turn us?" and
"*What* made that horrible fireball" and
"*Which* one of 'em's going first in the initiative order?"
"Who", "what" and "which" are special pronouns
That can ask a question
In the sense where you do not know the name of the noun.

But I know!

I have mine and she has hers and he has his,
Do you have yours?
They love us and we love them.
What's ours is theirs, that's how it is with friends.
And pronouns, you are really friends.  Yeah!
'Cause saying all those nouns over and over
Can really wear you down.

=====================================

OK, it doesn't scan quite right.  Sue me, I came up with this in five minutes and I'm pretty darn happy, thank you.  

Generally, I use the plural pronoun when writing.  Grammar be damned, English is a living language and it evolves.

Tom
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2002, 09:26:43 AM »

Thanks for the support, guys, but I've not made myself clear. First, just replacing the pronoun with another term rarely works. It only works if there was no need for the pronoun to begin with.

A sentence that needs to be fixed such as this:

Quote
When the GM makes decisions, he should make them consistently.


sounds terrible as:

Quote
When the GM is makes decisions, the Game Master should make them consistently.


Also, Nathan's idea doesn't always work, either.

Quote
When GM's make decisions, they should make them consistently.


is fine gramatically, but given certain contexts this will seem odd. In a rules section, it makes the whole thing sound like theory instead of directions to a single participant.

No, what I'm suggesting is rewriting the sentence.

Quote
The GM should ensure that all decisions are consistent.


This can sound better than the original, and avoid the pronoun use entirely. Interestingly, it's always possible to do this. Not easy; we rely on pronouns a lot. But you can always do this, and improve your text.

This also relates to another phenomenon that Ralph and I encountered writing Universalis. Originally we took a term that we created, and made lots of similar terms. Like the term Originator. That became Originate, Originated, Originates, Originating, etc. Turns out that this is similarly unecessary and confusing; you can just stick with one term. Instead of saying:

Quote
Bob Originates a Complication.


you can say:

Quote
Bob calls for a Complication.


In this case, it's not pertinent to use the term to indicate, and implied anyhow, that Bob is the Originator of the Complication. Only later do we need the term.

Quote
As the Originator of the Complication, Bob...


Again, all this is not easy. But it's good writing.

Mike
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