Merriam-Webster has announced "they" is the 2019 Word of the Year, following a 313% increase in searches compared to last year.
"They" overtook politically-charged words such as "quid pro quo" and "impeach", as well as, amazingly, "the", which saw a massive spike due to a trademark application filed in August by The Ohio State University.
The definition of "they" according to Merriam-Webster is:
- : those ones : those people, animals, or things
- —used to refer to people in a general way or to a group of people who are not specified
- a) —used with a singular indefinite pronoun antecedent
b) —used with a singular antecedent to refer to an unknown or unspecified person
c) —used to refer to a single person whose gender is intentionally not revealed
d) —used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary (see NONBINARY sense c)
The final definition, referring to a person who identifies as non-binary, was added in September of 2019.
This year has been a year of increased discussion about gender identity, with high profile artists like Sam Smith "coming out" as non-binary and adopting "they/them" pronouns. Smith came under fire from feminists for adopting regressive sex-stereotypes and claiming this made him part-woman. “There’s a vivacious woman inside my body that is being set free,” he claimed.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, non-binary means:
An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories.
The idea that sex is determined by internal feelings based on regressive gender-roles is explicitly in contrast to the goals of women's liberation, which seeks to abolish gender roles for both men and women.
Merriam-Webster's recognition of the importance of this pronoun demonstrates how obsessed our culture has become with doubling down on gender rather than following feminist aims. In the UK, the number of non-binary students appears to have doubled between 2017 and 2018—two thirds of those young people are women, seeking to escape oppressive gender roles.
While the singular "they" has long been used to refer to an individual of unknown sex, since English does not have a gender-neutral pronoun, the further codification of "gender identity", defined as, "a person's internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female", is explicitly harmful to women as it essentially blames women's oppression on our own identities rather than on patriarchy.
The move to be "inclusive" of females who identify as non-binary in services aimed at women has led to the masking of male violence, hiding the reality that women are oppressed because of our biology—not any sort of internal identity. Regardless of their internal feelings, in some countries, 70% of women have experienced sexual or physical violence from an intimate partner. 137 women are killed every day by a member of their own family. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have experienced genital mutilation, mostly before the age of five. Women can not simply identify out of this oppression by adopting a new pronoun.
Men, on the other hand, are able to benefit by erasing sex-based protections for women under the guise of being "inclusive".
In October, male politicians in New York City used non-binary "inclusion" as an excuse to eliminate protections for women that had been set up by Eleanor Roosevelt to ensure sex equality in local politics.
Both male and female people should be able to freely participate in femininity or masculinity to whatever degree they enjoy without facing oppression or discrimination for their choices. Yet, it is clear that sex still matters. Women are especially likely to be targeted for violence and discrimination based on gender non-conformity. This is true regardless of how the woman's internal "gender identity".
The choice of this year's Word of the Year stands in contrast to the past two year's words: "justice" (2018), and "feminism" (2017):
Justice: the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments
Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
Cover design by author. CC-BY-SA, M. K. Fain