Friday, July 19

Your pronouns are ruining your reputation

“Every time his name and pronouns pop up on my screen, I get a lurch of dread in my stomach and fight back tears”

It’s becoming clear that listing your preferred pronouns online can backfire. While people often proffer their pronouns in an attempt to advertise their kindness and virtue, in reality it frequently creates a poor first impression.

This was highlighted in a recent survey by DatePsychology, which found that preferred pronouns are a distinct turnoff for both men and women.

In the survey, 24% of men said that they will absolutely reject any woman who includes preferred pronouns in her online dating profile (e.g. if she includes “she/her” after her name). This means that even if they find her profile picture attractive, they won’t even consider dating her. Interestingly, men found preferred pronouns more off-putting than explicitly stated political beliefs that were opposed to their own.

Similarly, 28% of women said that they will absolutely reject any man who lists his preferred pronouns in his online dating profile. This makes preferred pronouns a bigger deal-breaker for women than not listing any career or education in your dating profile.

The tables below show some other dating deal-breakers for men and women, to put these findings in context. You can see the complete list in the original article.

These tables show the percentage of respondents who absolutely reject potential partners who list preferred pronouns. They don’t include respondents who merely said that they found preferred pronouns off-putting.

While this survey looked at pronouns in dating apps, it has obvious implications for  pronouns in email signatures and social media profiles. If you work in business, can you afford to alienate a quarter of your customers by adding your pronouns to your LinkedIn profile? If you work in government, do you really want to alienate a quarter of the citizens you are duty bound to serve?

Why does listing your preferred pronouns make you unattractive? While the DatePsychology survey doesn’t answer this question, there are several likely reasons.

It paints you as a gender activist

As the New Zealand Public Service Commission admits, “Having pronouns in an email signature signals you as an LGBTQIA+ ally”. And as the Social Justice Encyclopedia explains, being an ‘ally’ means adopting “a subordinate and supportive role within a group of activists for an identity group”. In other words, listing your preferred pronouns tells the world you’re a gender activist.

A recent informal member survey by the Sex Equality and Equity Network (SEEN), a gender-critical UK government staff network, supports this perception. This survey found widespread concern that listing preferred pronouns violates ethical guidelines on political neutrality:

Over three quarters of respondents highlighted what they see as the political nature of pronoun declaration and the associated ideology underpinning it (that is, belief in gender identity), with the view that this was not considered appropriate in an impartial Civil Service.

Some examples of these comments include:

‘We don’t indicate our affiliation with other ideological beliefs on official emails, e.g. which political or religious ideology we support. It is unnecessary for us to do our jobs and shouldn’t be encouraged as we are public servants who should strive to be as impartial as possible on all matters.’ 

‘As civil servants we are expected to remain politically impartial, a simple rule to which I am careful to adhere. Plastering your beliefs on every email sent out does not imply a political impartiality, quite the opposite.’

It signals belief in gender identity theory

The theory behind listing your preferred pronouns is that it’s not your biology that determines whether you’re male or female. Rather, it’s an invisible feeling, based on your affinity with sex stereotypes. Supposedly, because your ‘real’ gender is invisible, you need to tell people about it by stating your pronouns early and often.

Thus, as the advocacy group Sex Matters explains, “Stating pronouns is part of a belief system and one not everyone is signed up to”. Consistent with this, the SEEN survey found widespread concern that stating your pronouns signals allegiance to gender identity theory and reinforces regressive sex stereotypes:

Many of our members see stating pronouns as a clear indicator of a belief in gender identity (and that this should always take precedence over sex)… Many who highlighted this angle also expressed their concerns about how encouraging the use of pronouns (and thus implying belief in gender identity) was distressing, as it implied a ‘right’ way to be a man or a woman, tied to stereotypes of femininity/masculinity, such as ‘FF, MoJ’ who said:

‘It promotes an ideology that if you are female who does not [reflect] social roles and stereotypes of femininity you are not a woman, [and] similarly if you are a man who rejects the social roles of masculinity then you are not a man.’

It signals support for medical harm to children

People who broadcast their preferred pronouns are often trying to signal that they are caring and considerate. Yet the message received can be the opposite of that intended. Many people interpret preferred pronouns as a sign of a callous disregard for medical harm to children. In the words of one parent of a gender-distressed child, “Your Pronoun Badge Tells Me You’re Okay with Sterilizing Autistic Kids”.

The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in children and young people reporting gender distress. As a result, thousands of autistic, gay, unhappy, or otherwise vulnerable young people are being channelled towards harmful and unproven medical interventions.

Belief in gender identity theory appears to increase the risk of feelings of gender distress. It also encourages children and young people to see cross-sex hormones and cosmetic surgeries as the only solution to that distress. Because preferred pronouns signal support for gender identity theory, they also signal support for continuing this medical harm.

Here’s how one SEEN survey respondent described her reaction to her manager’s preferred pronouns:

My line manager, a pleasant bloke with young children, has ‘pronouns he/him’ after his name on his email signature. Next to it, he has carefully made a hyperlink marked ‘Why do I do this?’, which links to a political blog about ‘allyship’. Whenever an email from him pops up, there also pops up the ‘pronouns he/him’. And every time his name and pronouns pop up on my screen, I get a lurch of dread in my stomach and fight back tears. My lovely, fragile young niece comes into my mind again, I feel helpless, and I can’t concentrate on my work. My teenaged, soon-to-be-adult niece, who has for years struggled with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. We all helped and supported her as best as we could and hoped maturity and time would work its magic and foster her growing into the strong, healthy young woman we know she can be, just like a million awkward teenagers before her have grown up and worked it out. Instead, she got caught up in the gender identity movement and is trapped in an alternate universe.

Now she feels ‘special’ and ‘chosen’, rather than just an awkward ugly duckling who got teased by the cool kids. Now she is praised for her ‘bravery’ by the cool kids at her new 6th Form and they tell her the rest of the world is against her and only her ‘allies’ will defend her. […]

We try still to hold her as close as we can and tell her we love her just the way she is, and that she doesn’t need to pretend to be a boy for the world to accept her. We hope we can keep hold of her before she is old enough to buy cross-sex hormones or get on a surgery waiting list to have her breasts chopped off. She threatens both on her darkest days, full of weeping and panic attacks.

Does my line manager know about girls like my niece? Every day, I think, I must talk to him. But what can I say, when our workplace policies allow and encourage ‘pronouns’? He has also been praised as ‘brave’, for being ‘a good ally to vulnerable people’. Does he know how this violent political movement of gender identity, that he so casually promotes with his ‘pronouns’, damages vulnerable girls like my niece? If he doesn’t know, why doesn’t he bother to find out? If he does know, how can he be so callous?

Since gender activism, gender identity theory, and medically transitioning children are widely unpopular, it’s no wonder that preferred pronouns are perceived as so unattractive.

It’s a red flag for potential emotional problems

Obviously, stating your preferred pronouns is a sign of being ‘woke’ (i.e. committed to Critical Social Justice ideology). And there’s compelling evidence that ‘woke’ young men and women tend, in some cases, to be emotionally troubled. This may be because woke beliefs are psychologically unhealthy. As a result, several authors have suggested that woke activism generates “people whose default position is victimization, hurt, and a sense that life simply happens to them and they have no control over their response”. In other words, people who are no fun to date. Or to work with, for that matter.

Of course, many ‘woke’ people who list their pronouns are perfectly well adjusted. It would be unfair and unwise to judge someone’s emotional health based purely on this single piece of information. Still, this connection is probably one of several reasons that listing your pronouns can create a bad first impression.

Many people sense that there’s something deeply wrong with the whole preferred pronouns thing, but are afraid to express their doubts. If that’s you, the DatePsychology survey results show that you are not alone. As people learn how widely unpopular pronoun rituals are, more of us are finding the courage to reject them altogether.

Footnote: Limitations of the surveys referenced

The DatePsychology survey was non-random and self-report, which means it has several limitations. For example, since respondents were recruited through social media, the survey may have underestimated the average person’s objections to preferred pronouns (since social media sites are well known for encouraging the sharing of preferred pronouns). I recommend reading the original study to get a better sense of its strengths and limitations.

The informal SEEN survey was based on responses from self-selected members of the SEEN network. The SEEN network describes itself as gender critical, and the results of this survey may not be representative of the views of the UK Civil Service as a whole.