A few weeks ago, I posted a blog criticizing a grammar program’s caution that I might offend someone with my narrative. It suggested I change the wording of a sentence to be more inclusive.
If you’re interested in the details and the discussion that evolved around it, click the link below to see the blog in question. However, this piece will stand on its own, even if it is a continuation of the rant from Artificially Speaking.
Recently, I was working on a draft for future publication concerning some of the so-called bits of wisdom shared on social media. It is one of those pieces that needs to age a bit before being shared, or deleted. However, as I was trying to wrap it up, the grammar algorithm raised its ugly head again.
The piece in question comments on a meme using the term child as the object of discussion. The meme used the terms “the child” and “a child” to make its point. Accordingly, I used the term child several times without any indication of pronoun preference when referring to the message in the meme. Nothing in the meme, comments about the meme, or my blog referred to gender in any fashion.
The meme’s creator discussed a hypothetical incident involving a hypothetical child. I might have been one of these kids or one of a million others. I analyzed the meme in the same way. Yet, someone, or more likely something, decided that was a problem, and sent the suggestion below.
To me, the suggestion came completely out of left field! The program suggested a pronoun when nothing in the meme or my draft alluded to gender or sex in any way. And, the “Learn more” link simply opened a section that rehashed what anyone with a background in writing would know about pronouns. There was no allusion to why itself would not suffice in this situation.
Please keep in mind that this was a meme discussing a hypothetical person’s response to the actions of a hypothetical child. In analyzing the meme’s message, I used the word child five times, as that was the term used in the meme. Again, “child” was used without any suggestion regarding gender, age, ethnicity, or intellectual level.
It was when I made the mistake of trying to make the child even more of a hypothetical figure the stuff hit the fan! I wrote, “…it is possible the child was trying to defend itself…” The suggestion above was the response to that phrase.
At first, I was a bit confused. My favorite writing aid changed from inclusive to biased in a few weeks. After all, the only thing in the meme or my writing that might suggest gender or sex was the child’s behavior as laid out in the meme.
My first thought was the program or some human accessing the program decided the behavior was masculine. Being the curious, analytical dork I am, I looked into the matter.
It was then I discovered why the program came up with this suggestion. When I searched to find out if the term “itself” would be considered gender-neutral, I discovered the English-speaking world is somewhat divided.
Some writers, educators, and others opined that using “it” when referring to a person is dehumanizing. Others thought it was okay to use “it” for a “baby.” Of course, there was no discussion about when a child was no longer considered a baby.
When does a baby become a child? Can it be referred to as an “it” until it crawls, until it walks, until it can eat solid food, until it can speak coherently, or what?
The bottom line is this. The program wasn’t biased. It, like much of the rest of the world, is confused.
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