PCP: For

Gabrielle Klemt - 1B Geological
Posted on: October 23, 2016

How many of us have accidentally used the wrong pronoun when addressing someone? I’d argue that the majority of people reading this have done so at some point, and when it happens, immediately you feel terrible. You’ve just questioned someone’s identity because of prejudices regarding hair or clothes or body type you may not have realized you had. When it happens to you? It’s even worse. I had really short hair as a kid and was called a boy on multiple occasions – trust me, it didn’t make me feel more confident about who I am and how I identify.

Refusing to acknowledge someone for who they are is not utilizing your free speech; it’s rude. If you feel no remorse for purposely addressing someone by the improper pronoun, you are being lazy and callous and purposely damaging. It doesn’t actually matter if you “don’t understand” what it means to be gender neutral; you don’t need to understand, you simply need to respect another person’s choice. Perhaps I don’t understand why someone would get a PhD in snowboarding, but if you want to be called “Dr X”, I’ll respect your preference because that’s the society we live in today.

What if you truly believe that as a Canadian citizen you have the right to call someone whatever you see fit? What if you believe that because your video on “political overcorrectness” is just a way of expressing your confusion over a society where people can be both male and female or neither? What if you think it’s an infringement on your rights that you not be allowed to resist authority telling you what to say? Well, to you I say, freedom can only go so far.

Maybe Bill 16, which “forces” people to use others’ preferred pronouns goes too far; no one should be forced to do anything when the reverse doesn’t hurt anyone. But how can you be sure it doesn’t? We’re talking about a community that has been marginalized for so long that people refusing to acknowledge them is just considered “free speech”.

Saying, “if you look like a girl, I’ll call you she. I can do that because I can say whatever I want as long as I’m not threatening” is not OK. Sure, being called a girl is not an insult; it isn’t a slur, and personally I am very happy to be a girl. But I also know that there are a significant number of people in the world who don’t consider themselves girls and; were you to address them as such, it would be damaging. Choosing to say “Well, I just don’t understand it, so I won’t accept it” is really not OK.

If you’re still unconvinced and consider it free speech, this is a direct excerpt from the current University of Toronto Statement on Freedom of Speech, written in 1992: “Similarly, although no member of the University should use language or indulge in behaviour intended to demean others on the basis of their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, handicap, age, marital status, family status, the receipt of public assistance or record of offence, the values of mutual respect and civility may, on occasion, be superseded by the need to protect lawful freedom of speech. However, members should not weigh lightly the shock, hurt, anger or even the silencing effect that may be caused by use of such speech.”

If you look closely, sex is definitely included in that list, and as far as I understand the human race and as far as I can see how people are reacting to Professor Peterson’s comments, deliberately choosing not to use a person’s preferred pronoun would and has caused shock, hurt, and anger. And for every student and faculty member standing up and voicing their opinions on this matter, there are going to be those who feel demeaned enough that they will feel silenced and powerless on the subject.

Yes, universities are traditionally places where you can get up and speak your mind without repercussions. You can write essays and give speeches on near well anything under the sun. But it is an entirely different matter to put your theoretical ideas and ideologies into practice. Maybe today’s society is much too PC for your liking. Great! Write articles, publish YouTube videos, tell people that you don’t like the world as it is today. But if you do that, and then tell the world that people who believe differently than you will have cause to be uncomfortable in your classroom, there’s a problem.

Why? Because universities are not first and foremost about free speech, they’re about the dissemination of knowledge. If you choose to let your political beliefs change the dynamic of your classroom, you’re not doing the first thing you should, and you can’t be surprised or annoyed that there are people standing up against that. A classroom should be a place where anyone, no matter how confusing their identity might be to you, should feel safe and comfortable learning.

So, if a new law saying that using the pronoun a person prefers, versus one you would assign for them, is what it takes for people to be able to focus on the important tasks of teaching and learning, I say make that law. The only possible consequence could be a more inclusive, enjoyable learning environment. And if you truly can’t stand this law, and if you believe this infringes on your freedom of speech in a way that you are not comfortable with, why don’t you try moving elsewhere? Canada is a country that values inclusiveness, civility, and respect.

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