Mike Pesca, host of Slate’s podcast The Gist, was responding to emails and tweets on Friday after listeners wrote to him in response to a segment he did on the likelihood of the pronoun “they” becoming a universally accepted, commonly-used singular, gender-neutral pronoun.
Mike’s argument was simple:
It’s unlikely that a word as commonly used as “they” to indicate a plurality of people will ever become the gender-neutral singular pronoun that so many desire. It’s simply too ingrained in our lexicon as a plural pronoun for it to be accepted in a singular form.
Mike wasn’t opposed to “they” becoming a gender-neutral singular pronoun. In fact, he uses “they” as a singular pronoun when asked. He’s also not opposed to gender-neutral pronouns in general. He simply doesn’t think that a noun as ubiquitously used as “they” will shift its meaning in the direction that some people would like.
Some listeners who failed at listening thought that Mike was standing in opposition of gender-neutral pronouns and wrote angry screeds to him in response.
This is fine. Misunderstandings happen. Confusion is common. Feedback is always appreciated and helpful. Perhaps these listeners were doing the dishes, changing a flat tire, or operating heavy machinery while listening to the podcast and missed his point.
But what annoyed me was the listener who wrote to falsely criticize Mike for opposing gender-neutral pronouns and then informed him that she would no longer be listening to his until-now excellent podcast.
I hate this.
I hate it so much.
Why tell Mike that he is wrongheaded and then not bother to continue to listen to a podcast that you liked at least enough to be listening to in the first place to see if Mike responds?
When you tell someone that they have made a mistake, it’s only right and sensible to offer a chance to respond.
This annoys me because it’s stupid. But it also annoys me because it happens to me, too. In its most benign form, it's a follower on Twitter who is angry about something I tweeted. He fires off an angry tweet in response and then blocks me, preventing me from defending myself or clarifying my opinion.
It’s similarly happened in regards to a blog post. Someone doesn’t like an opinion that I expressed and writes to me in response, informing me that she is no longer subscribed to my blog nor will she be returning to my website ever again, offering me no opportunity to explain, expound, or clarify.
In its worst form, someone actually says to me, in person, “I’m going to tell you how I feel, but I don’t want to hear your response. I’m not in the mood for your logic or rhetoric. I just want to be heard, and then I’m moving on.”
Admittedly this does not happen often, but it’s happened often enough that I’d need more than two hands to count the number of times it’s been said to me, by colleagues, friends, a boss, my former step-father, a college professor, and an ex-girlfriend who said it to me quite often.
Not Elysha Dicks, of course. She is more than willing to listen to my stupid excuses and and bat them away.
Shutting off discourse and debate is stupid, but shutting off discourse and debate after you’ve engaged in discourse and debate is super-duper stupid.