21
\$\begingroup\$

This is a follow up to our standing guidance on pronoun use in Q&As around the site: Should RPG.SE enforce a specific standard for handling gender pronouns?

The question asks:

Should RPG.SE enforce a specific language standard (here: with regard to gender) even when the original text is correct according to the rules of English grammar?

And the community consensus answer is:

All pronouns are neutral and should be enforced as such.

I personally think that nobody should be harassed, or be in the red for guessing wrong on how someone wants to be called, and this should extend to RPG.SE. no pronoun should have a negative connotation, whether being misused or otherwise.

Unless otherwise stated, all questions are gender agnostic.

This means that 'he/him', 'they/their', and 'she/her' pronouns are correct, and none of them are incorrect. Good answers simply maintain continuity, and don't switch to refer to the same people. The answer may decide to change pronouns if the answerer wishes, but there is no correct gender. An answer should never be wrong because the gender is 'incorrect', because no gender option is incorrect. If the OP puts in the post that this is a gender-issue, then correct pronouns should be used.

Despite this guidance, we are still seeing questions and answers being edited to remove gendered pronouns "he/him", replacing with "they/them", and these edits are insubstantial. Usually, the only thing changed in the edit are the pronouns.

This seems inconsistent with our existing guidance about pronoun usage and editing.

Our guidance concerning pronouns is quite clear that all pronouns are a priori gender agnostic and correct, unless context tells us otherwise (e.g. a characters preferred pronouns are stated in a post), ergo these edits are not correcting or improving anything1. Despite "No Improvement" being an option in the review queue, we are still seeing these edits pushed through in review.

In the 2021 Community Check-In, I put forward that by pushing these edits through, we are enforcing a standard upon these posts, despite our guidance clearly stating that we should not enforce any standard, and that post seems to have been well received (+18/-5 at time of writing). So consider this a follow up to a well supported community check in response.

We have clear guidance that we should not enforce the use of gender neutral pronouns, but should we enforce the policy of non-enforcement?

To be forthright about my own position and motivation, I don't much care either way about the pronoun issue itself, I just care about consistency between our written guidance here on meta, and what we see happening on main. If we need to change our written guidance a bit, that's fine with me, if we just need to enforce our written guidance better, that's fine too.


1 A user attempted to raise this very discussion: Is changing a gendered term to a non-gendered term a grammatical improvement? It was closed as a duplicate of our main guidance about pronoun usage, which to me seems like a roundabout way of saying "No, it's not an improvement, don't do it per our existing guidance".

\$\endgroup\$
30
\$\begingroup\$

Yes, mostly

Changing "him" or "her" to "them" without really strong reasons should be declined during review as "no improvement whatsoever". If done by an user with editing rights, it should be rolled back and commented with the appropriate meta link.

but sometimes

Sometimes gender of the character or person in question is shown only later, on edits or comments. Or was genuinely missed by someone with lower English skills. If it's important for clarity to keep the same pronouns (i.e. to know who is who), then edit is OK. For example, if the question speaks of Alice and Bob, then it is OK to make sure that in the answer "him" is never used to refer to Alice1. In the case of a mentioned user's or character's gender being revealed some time later after the initial post, it is also okay to comment on an answer like so:

Hey, the question was just updated and it turns out this character is [he/she/they/whatever]; you may want to consider updating your answer accordingly.

But even when the edit is OK, harassing, scolding, or talking down to the author of the post is most definitely not OK, and should be flagged as "unfriendly or unkind".


1 Alice Cooper doesn't count here ;)

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Last paragraph and footnote contribute heavily to my agreement on this. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 12:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like a pretty level take. Your "but sometimes" is right on, I think. The edits I'm concerned about are those edits that are just changing pronouns for the sake of it, and nothing else, not those edits which are concerned about consistency between Q&A and which characters are being referred to. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 12:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov We're thinking human beings, we should take full advantage of that ;) Hence the "but sometimes" part. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jun 28 at 15:12
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Poor Alice Cooper.... But yeah, I agree this seems like the most sensible option. Don't make a big deal out of something unrelated to the actual question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Jun 28 at 16:06
0
\$\begingroup\$

What's our end goal in how pronoun usage should look on the site?

I think it's helpful to start there and work our way back.

I can only speak for myself, but my personal preference is twofold:

  • When we're discussing a specific person or character whose pronouns are established, like someone the question has established (“there's this player in my group, I'll call her Bertha”), we use those pronouns. This is just clear communication, and also basic courtesy.
  • Overall, to see a healthy mix of use of “he”, “she”, and “they”. Our hobby is dominated by male presence and women can have trouble finding a place in the hobby. Including this mix of pronouns is a tiny gesture, but it's one that adds a tiny little bit of signal that yes, women have a place in this hobby. Just seeing “he” and “they” does not send this affirmative signal the same way.

This desire leads to me framing my occasional examples of theoretical characters by characterising them with “they” or “she”. (Folks might even like to use neopronouns in their examples if they're so inclined, but that's above and beyond my baseline desires for what I want to see from the site overall.)

It means I would also not mind seeing theoretical characters edited over to “they” or “she” from time to time, but it's a minor improvement at best. If such edits are happening I would prefer to see a mix rather than just editing over to “they”.

That said, lots of people being asked about in point 1 are going to be male because of the nature of the makeup of our hobby. I don't expect the use of he/she/they to be seen in equal proportion. It's just that all “he” wouldn't be great; at least some “they” and “she” would be nice.

Specific enforcement: might not be helpful

I don't think I'd want to see a policy enforcing some specific standard usage of pronouns, beyond respecting those that were given for real individuals (bullet point 1). That much was already covered and agreed upon in Should RPG.SE enforce a specific standard for handling gender pronouns?.

However, enforcing that people don't do anything to switch over pronouns means we're prohibiting ourselves from creating a little extra balance toward “they” and “she” where we could possibly create it. I think that shoots ourself in the foot a bit. (Not too gruesomely, maybe just with a paintball gun, but still.) It'd cut off an avenue of possible positive change to convey that people are included.

Basically: enforcement of some kind of “don't change pronouns” policy isn't helpful.

Edits: definitely minor, could be a little more diverse

Like you've observed, there's been a number of these changes.

I agree they're minor and don't necessarily improve the post.

Speaking personally, I think they'd be slightly more of an improvement if there was an overall pattern of moving towards “they” and “she”, but as-is I'm not all that satisfied with just moving to “they”.

I want to see a pattern of overall inclusion in our usage of non-male genders, but general edits into “they” alone is not really where that's at.

If there's some guidance we create out of this, I think it ought to be “hey, please don't just change pronouns to only ‘they’ all the time” and that overall the site would be nicer if we collectively made an effort to use “she” and “they“ prononus for people from time to time, but that's a request, not an enforced demand.

\$\endgroup\$
9
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is not about enforcing some specific standard usage of pronouns. It is about enforcing leaving that to the authors of the posts. Creating artificial mix won't be all that helpful, and may be unpleasant and unwelcoming for people whose characters, that were mentioned in the Qs and As, or inspired them, were suddenly gender swapped from under them. I only have one trans acquaintance that I talked feelings with, and she sure wouldn't want her characters to be changed into males, it would be hurtful. And gender-avoiding even more. I can only guess tat trans men would feel the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jun 28 at 15:10
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ That's all covered under bullet point one. I'll update it to clarify. Nothing here suggests anyone's pronouns should be changed out from under them; the mix is just something I'm interested in seeing across the site and something we as individuals could do as part of our theoretical examples (not those featuring already-defined characters). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh. Un-downvoted now. We had a simple misunderstanding. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jun 28 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ The D&D 3.5e Q&A corpus on this site already has a mix of “he” and “she” at least a little bit, in that WotC’s standard at the time was for the pronouns used in the description of class features was to use the pronoun with a gender corresponding to the iconic character of that class (e.g. the iconic wizard was the female elf Mialee, so descriptions of wizards in the game rules use “she”). It reads really nicely—though I’d argue, from a game publication standpoint, that their more recent policy of just using “you” for everything is much better. (But mostly doesn’t address our use cases.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 28 at 17:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I do like what D&D (and Pathfinder) did with their iconic characters. :) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28 at 18:12
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ I would have upvoted this but for this line: "enforcing that people don't do anything to switch over pronouns means we're prohibiting ourselves from creating a little extra balance toward “they” and “she” where we could possibly create it." I believe that, if we strive to create this balance, it should definitely not happen via editing others' answers. Instead, people should be led by example, e.g. World of Darkness uses she to address a standard player character, which makes many players use the same automatically. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1 at 7:26
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy in many places D&D 5e uses "you", which is inclusive to anyone who happens to read it and circumvents the problem entirely, without resorting to grammar that is still alien to many people. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jul 1 at 10:42
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot This is a great approach, but still not something that I would like to see in edits that change just that. :) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1 at 11:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov Certainly! Just thought it is an useful style hint that removes the feeling that edit either way is needed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jul 1 at 11:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .