Feeling the aftershocks of Trump in Canada

Donald Trump is known for his volcanic personality, but over the course of the election I considered him a joke. His xenophobic rumblings were frightening indeed, but his ideas were too far-fetched to be take seriously—after all, it wasn’t like he would actually be elected.

Boy was I wrong. Election night was like a disaster unfolding before my eyes, and I realized the threat he posed was very real. But as a Canadian, I still felt like I was watching from a safe distance.

Then Trump took office, and his rumblings quickly erupted into executive orders, instantly burying years of progress. And then he really blew his stack, introducing a blatantly racist travel ban to bar Syrian refugees from entering the US and keep out immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. The impacts were felt far and wide, causing chaos and despair. But I still felt thankful to live in Canada, where we value diversity and tolerance.

I soon realized that disasters—natural or otherwise—are not confined to borders. Only two days after the travel ban, a Trump-supporting white supremacist (I refuse to invoke his name), walked into a Quebec City mosque and opened fire on innocent Muslims as they prayed. Six killed, nineteen injured, and seventeen children left fatherless. The travel ban has been lifted, but those lives were lost forever.

These events cast a devastating shadow, but I was inspired by the outpouring of love and support for the Muslim community. People around the world have protested the travel ban, rallying against Islamophobia. Thousands of Canadians attended vigils to mourn the victims of the mosque attack.

We need to continue the show of support for Muslims—and any minority group that is discriminated against. With hate crimes on the rise, we cannot settle back into a state of complacency or denial. We have to stand up against discrimination and religious persecution whenever and wherever we encounter it. Canada is not immune to racism and religious intolerance.

Just look at two of the Conservative leadership hopefuls and how they’ve behaved in the face of the mosque shooting. On one hand there’s Kellie Leitch, who continues to campaign on immigration screening. On the other hand, there’s Kevin O’Leary (another bullyish reality-TV star with no experience in politics), who posted a video of himself firing automatic weapons on same day as the funeral for the victims.  These characters are almost as unbelievable as Trump, and equally as dangerous.

The next federal election is only a couple of years away, and we need to continue fighting to keep Canada the peaceful, diverse, tolerant nation we’re proud to call home. Let’s not make the same mistake that was made in the US. After all, natural disasters can’t be averted, but political and human disasters can.

10 tips for gender-neutral writing

Even the most conscientious writer has difficulties avoiding gender bias. As I discussed in my last post, problems arise when referring to someone whose gender is unknown. Without a singular gender-neutral pronoun, there are two choices: he or she. The traditional—and sexist—approach is to use masculine pronouns by default. This practice is dying out, but what is taught instead? Stylistic clunkers like alternating he and she or using slashed constructions (he/she and s/he).

Thankfully, there are better alternatives. I’ve compiled a list of tips for avoiding gender bias without sacrificing style.

1. Omit the gender-specific pronoun.

This is the ideal solution; it not only precludes the need for rewriting, but also eliminates excess words.

Everyone wants his fifteen minutes of fame.×
Everyone wants fifteen minutes of fame.√

 A doctor wants his patients to be healthy.×
A doctor wants patients to be healthy.√

 

Writing without gender bias

Language evolves with the shifting values of society, but it doesn’t always keep pace. Despite advances in gender equality, some people still use—and teach—biased language. And even though our understanding of gender identity has expanded, our lexicon hasn’t. Sure, we have neutralized a good deal of nouns (e.g., fireman is now firefighter), but we still rely on the pronouns of old. The lack of a singular gender-neutral pronoun has left a gaping hole through which bias easily slips through.

Here’s a refresher on how pronouns function and why they cause problems.

The problem with pronouns

A pronoun replaces, or refers, to a noun that has already been mentioned (an antecedent). The pronoun must agree with the antecedent in number and gender; for example, the requisite pronoun for mother is she. But what if the antecedent is singular and genderless, like person? You have no choice but to replace it with he or she. The traditional—and sexist—approach is to use masculine pronouns by default, implying that the dominant gender is male. Bias also occurs when feminine pronouns are used only with nouns like nanny, which are historically associated with female gender roles.

We’re more likely to encounter these problems when the antecedent is a generic noun or an indefinite pronoun.

Generic nouns: Generic nouns like firefighter do not specify a gender. This poses a problem when you need a third-person singular pronoun. Example: “For a firefighter to give more than the average citizen, he must be physically strong.”

Indefinite pronouns: Indefinite pronouns are generic because they do not point to a specific noun. Singular indefinite pronouns like everyone can be tricky, because they sound plural—but they always require singular pronouns. Example: “Everyone wants his fifteen minutes of fame.”

Some culprits to watch out for include: another, anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, everyone, nobody, no one, somebody, and someone.

The Singular They

The pronoun they is traditionally plural, but is widely used as a gender-neutral alternative to he and she (e.g., Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too). Sticklers still argue against it however, and the practice is not accepted in formal writing.

They is also gaining popularity with people who don’t identify as strictly male or female, or don’t want to be associated with a gender. Unlike the use of they to refer to a generic noun or pronoun, this usage points to a specific person. For example, you could say, “This is my friend Brett. I met them at work.”

Nonbinary pronouns

The singular they doesn’t cut it for everyone, and other gender-neutral alternatives have been created to fill the gap. Instead of he or she, we now have a plethora of pronouns to choose from, such as ey and ze. Many institutions are adopting their use, giving people the option to pick the pronoun that resonates with them. The table below compares some popular nonbinary pronouns, the singular they, and the traditional gendered pronouns.

subject
object
possessive adjective
possessive pronoun
reflexive
she/he her/him her/his hers/his herself/himself
they them their theirs themself
ey em eir eirs emself
ne nem nir nirs nemself
ve ver vis vis verself
ze/zie hir hir hirs hirself
ze/zie zir zir zirs zirself

Conclusion

As society continues on the path to gender equality and inclusiveness, language struggles to catch up. It is getting closer though, with the acceptance of the singular they and the introduction of nonbinary pronouns. These pronouns may be unfamiliar and confusing to the novice, but they promote inclusiveness and allow an individual to have power over their own identity. Respecting someone’s wish to be called by a particular pronoun isn’t just politically correct—it is considerate and respectful.

The choice is not so clear when writing about generic nouns or pronouns; we still lack gender-neutral pronouns for nouns like person and indefinite pronouns like everyone. Until there is a common approach, bias will continue to infiltrate our writing.

Thankfully, there are many ways to avoid gendered pronouns altogether—and some techniques can actually improve your writing. Stay tuned for my next blog on how to take the bias out of your writing without sacrificing style.

New Year’s resolution: write more

Every year I’m foolish enough to make New Year’s resolutions—ten, to be exact. Naturally, most of my resolutions are too ambitious (e.g., “Return to wedding weight”) and inevitably get carried over to the following year. And the year after that. They keep getting bumped until I can cross them off once and for all.

My system may seem ludicrous, but to me resolutions aren’t just about goals; they are a snapshot of my headspace in any given year. They tell me what I have prioritized over the years, what I have felt was necessary in order to feel fulfilled. Looking back over time, I can see patterns; there are certain ideals I aspire to year after year but find difficult to achieve.

For several years I have included the resolution to “write more.” Every year I’ve made an honest attempt. While I was pregnant, I journaled almost daily. But after I had my baby, I was too tired to keep it up. Gone were the days of sitting in a café and scribbling my thoughts. So I started a journal app, thinking that the ease of use and daily reminders would prompt me to write more. Well, they didn’t. The fact is, a journal doesn’t hold me to account. And it certainly doesn’t care if my writing stinks.

So I’ve decided to start this blog. I don’t expect it to bring fame or fortune—only the impetus to write more and write better. I considered niche blogging, but I do that for work and have been for years. I’m itching to express my point of view about whatever inspires me, and I don’t care to limit myself. As a writer and editor, I will mainly focus on the craft of working with words. But I am also an artist, a birder, a cyclist, a foodie, an environmentalist, and a mother—so you can expect those facets of my life to be reflected here.

If there is anything I’ve learned from New Year’s resolutions, it is to go easier on myself. I have a full-time job, a freelance business, and a thirteen-month-old—so the most I can commit to is one post a week. In order to meet this goal, I’m going to make a point of writing for at least fifteen minutes a day. Getting started is half the battle; once I sit down to do it, fifteen minutes suddenly becomes an hour. As Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

It’s one week after New Year’s, and I’ve built a website and published my first post. I think I’m off to a good start! But I need you, reader, to help me keep it up. Please subscribe to my blog, hold me to account, and let me know what you think. And if you stick with me, maybe next year I’ll share all ten resolutions.