Pronouns etc

by The Council of Disobedient Women
John Fenaughty is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. In a recent column Fenaughty suggested that school teachers should use students’ “correct names and pronouns (e.g., he, him, they, them, she, her, etc).”

Following the Fenaughty protocol, The Council of Disobedient Women recommends that people use the pronoun ‘etc’, to avoid any confusion or offense.

Fenaughty recommends attention to pronouns to demonstrate acceptance, and in so doing foster belonging.

It should be noted that it is rather remiss of Mr Fenaughty to give up after listing so few pronouns. How will zie, sie, ey, ve, tey e people feel? There was no consideration shown for zim, sie, em, ver, ter, em either. As for zir, hir, eir, vis, tem, well that is just cruel and non-inclusive. Please do better Fernaughty for the sake of zis, hirs, eirs, vers, ters. If not for us then at least try harder for zieself, hirself, eirself, verself, terself, emself.
With the recent suggestion to make New Zealand Sign Language compulsory in schools, thought must be given to translation of ALL pronouns. For example, cupping one’s breast area while making the sign for “you” will ensure the listener (if female-identified) feels validated as such, as the equivalent gesture at groin height will do for males. For non-binary folx, a “shrug” gesture while pointing is appropriate.


  1. Regarding the perhaps underlying assumption that it’s just a matter of basic politeness to use preferred pronouns, I’m puzzled, for I hold it’s impolite to refer to a person who is present (in a conversation, or within audible distance) by any pronoun. That is, by referring to someone in third-person, you’re treating that person as a non-subject in the discourse. I really don’t know what kind of normal social situations there are where persons within audible distance get referred to by a pronoun.
    And in case the person who is referred to(/talked about) is not present (during a conversation), then it doesn’t matter to that person (and it could be considered again impolite in general to talk about someone behind their back).
    If it’s not about pronouns as such but designations (Mr./Mrs.), then I still doubt there are many situations wherein this ever happens, since such formalities are not insisted upon anymore today. Regretfully perhaps, since with the excessive familiarity for example in the workplace everyone is called by their first name. If we stick to old-fashion, then we wouldn’t even need to refer to people by their first name, but just their family name (which is always neutral, unless perhaps you consider German-origin names ending with -man). When we speak of a famous person, we refer to them just by their family name, so it’s not considered impolite (for example: “when Marx wrote Engels” – we don’t say Mr. Marx, or Karl).
    Others have suggested a simple solution is to address everyone as “comrade” (covering both male and female persons). This seems good for at a leftist meeting, though then it’s just already automatically standard practice (for the sake of preserving anonymity, equality, or necessity in case of unfamiliarity even of the person’s name, etc.).
    So the entire pronoun controversy (regardless of one’s side) seems pointless nonsense.

    • It is an indulgence of those who have nothing to do, and is really, when one thinks about it, very sad. An obviously female bagger at the local grocery store wears a tag which says HIM. I would guess that her fellow employees laugh about this behind her back, which makes it even more pathetic. How I wish young people could discover that there is a world out there filled with things that need doing!

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