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The Problem With Gendered Terms

You might have seen seemingly innocuous terms like "stewardess" or "waitress" and thought nothing of it. Or even the somewhat-deragotory "himbo," derived from "bimbo". Clearly, with the very recent visibility of non-binary individuals, these terms should be expanded to provide a gender-neutral option like "thembo," right?

Um, no, they shouldn't. They started that way.

Efforts to provide inclusive terms like "flight attendant" or "server" to replace the commonly-gendered terminology they seek to replace aren't being done to create a gender-inclusive term, but rather to avoid the stigma now associated with the terms we often see as solely fitting for a male. "Actress" only came into being around 1700 after several decades, and was often seen as derogatory, according to both the LA Times (2009) and the BBC (PDF, 2005). In 2018, grammarphobia pointed out dozens of words suffixed with "-ess" well after their creation, the earliest of which is "stewardess," first created in 1631 to describe a female steward. The term "steward" dates back to 955 or even earlier, over six hundred years prior. Even the Washington Post outright stated in 2014 no less that "you should basically stop using gendered nouns."

These articles are all worth a read, and go into far greater detail and much better research than I ever could. But in case you missed it, exactly none of these articles make any mention of the rainbow community, in whole or in part. They don't even hint at it. Why?

Because the term "non-binary" didn't start gaining traction until at least February 2014.

In other words, the discourse over the removal of gendered terms long predates the discourse over what gender even is. Flagrantly ignoring this is not only ignoring the reality that gendered terms are unnecessarily marginalizing non-binary and intersex individuals, it's also perpetuating misogyny and sexism towards women of all types, cisgendered or transgendered.

Simply put, don't use gendered terms. This is one that both trans women and trans-exclusionary radical feminists can agree on. And that's saying something.