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Cancelled Bloodstock Organizer is Right: It’s Time to Bin Pronouns in Emails

The growing trend has serious implications for women in the workplace

M. K. Fain
M. K. Fain

The organizer of a UK metal music festival was removed from her position as talent booker earlier this week following a Tweet criticizing including preferred pronouns in email signatures. According to a post from Bloodstock Festival on the 15th, Vicky Hungerford “has taken a step back” from her role at the festival “and will be taking the time to properly educate herself for a better understanding.”

The day prior, Hungerford had tweeted, “If you’re going to start putting pro nouns on your email so I can refer to you as he/him she or her I’m binning your emails …”

Hungerford’s comments were criticized on Twitter and in niche metal blogs like MetalSucks, Loudwire, and We Are the Pit which reported in a story by Chris Krovatin that the new custom of including pronouns in emails “has nothing to fucking do with her.”

But that isn’t exactly true. Beyond the obvious fact that if someone emails something to you it instantly becomes your business, there are wider implications for the trend that are likely to disadvantage women, in particular.

As I’ve previously written, drawing attention to your sex in professional settings (especially online ones) opens women up to an increased threat of harrassmentand discrimination. Take, for example, one study which found that women's code was more likely to be accepted into projects on Github, but only when their sex was not known. In another popular experiment from 2017, a man and woman switched email signatures for a week at work and found that they were treated dramatically differently when perceived as the opposite sex.

While in most cases professional colleagues already know the pronouns to use for each other, even just regular reminders of their sexes could negatively impact women in the workplaces, especially in male-dominated fields or professions (like the metal scene). This is due to a psychological phenomenon called stereotype threat, where groups are at risk of performing in accordance with a negative stereotype when that group identity is emphasized. For example, research found that women who were reminded of their sex prior to taking a math test performed worse on the test than women who did not receive this intervention.

Like other industries, the metal scene faced a #MeToo reckoning in the late 2010s for how the community had long treated women. As recently as 2018, Bloodstock’s mainstage lineup included only one band out of 17 with any female members at all, according to Metal Hammer. Hungerford herself has spoken out about sexism in the industry, stating in an interview for International Women’s Day 2020, “I did come across sexism and some old school dinosaurs who did not like dealing with women.”

While advocates for the addition of pronouns to emails may genuinely be looking to build a more inclusive work environment, the reality is that this practice is likely only furthering the existing divide between men and women at work. This is a legitimate reason for women to be concerned with the growing trend, especially in workplaces where pronouns in emails are either required or highly encouraged. It’s not limited to emails, either. The practice has seeped into other professional communication spheres like Slack and LinkedIn, which features a pronoun field that displays prominently next to a user’s name.

The problem with including pronouns in professional settings doesn’t end at sexism and discrimination, though. As issues of gender identity are finally hitting mainstream awareness, the act itself is inherently ideological — something which has no place in most professional correspondences.

Including pronouns in correspondences, especially without being asked, is a signal of adherence to a particular ideology: that we can not know someone’s sex without being told because an individual’s self-identity trumps biological reality, and that others should adjust their own perception to validate another’s identity. This is a belief system, much like a religion, that is sincerely held by a minority of the world’s population.

Most professionals understand how inappropriate it would be to include a Bible verse in their work email signature. This is because we, as a society, have generally accepted that people may belong to any number of religions (or none at all) and that a functional work setting involves separating our personal strongly-held beliefs from our regular work for the purpose of inclusivity. No one would dare make the argument that employees should include Bible verses in their workplace emails in order to be inclusive of Christians. Rather, the more inclusive act is, pretty obviously, to not include references to any religions in professional communications.

The growing social requirement to include ideological signifiers in the workplace should be disturbing to liberals, who in days long past criticized McCarthyist tactics of rooting out, firing, and shunning “subversives.” Instead, today’s liberals, now the ones in power, are happily building workplace cultures that demand total compliance with their own belief system.

Most ironically, these liberals seem to believe that by ignoring an email, somehow Hungerford was policing them — meanwhile, Hungerford’s removal from her position is treated as just a natural consequence for daring to express her unpopular belief.

As Krovatin wrote in his story on Hungerford for We Are the Pit, “All are welcome in metal… If you try to police someone else’s lifestyle because it bothers you, go fuck yourself.”

But binning an email is a private action that involves policing no one, while harassing a woman until she’s forced to “step down” from her job and deactivate her social media feels a lot closer to what Krovatin is actually describing. Are all really welcome in metal, or just those who cater to one specific ideology above all else?

While there don’t appear to be any known instances of a person who identifies as trans being removed from Bloodstock based on their gender identity, in the name of “inclusion” a woman has been now excluded. Nothing could better demonstrate the problem.


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OpinionCancelled WomenpronounsGender IdentityWorkplace harassmentCensorship

M. K. Fain

M. K. is a feminist writer with a background in activism & psychology. She is the founder and editor of 4W, and co-founder of Spinster.xyz.