Does Language Decide Gender Norms?
The society today has taken a leap towards gender equality and LGBT rights, so is putting salutations and ticking the Mr/Mrs/Miss. box even relevant now? Keeping this discourse in mind, Oxford University and several such universities have told colleges and academic departments to remove gender-specific titles from websites and leaflets. The document proposes only academic terms like Dr and Prof to be used. Even Australian university students have been told not to use gender-specific words such as ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ with one campus going an extra mile to ban the use of sarcasm. Universities in India have not taken any such initiative as of now and neither has the society.
Professors in the City University of New York’s Graduate Center hold the idea that rather than using Mr. or Ms. the staff should refer to students by his or her full name. This policy ensures more valuable, welcoming and gender-inclusive learning atmosphere and helps accommodate the diverse population of students. This applies to all parts of any letter including address and salutation, mailing labels, bills or invoices, and any other forms or reports that come out. Some also argue that it is disrespectful to call someone without the prefix.
The space of universities and societies is such that there needs to be a public debate about this. There are some top-notch universities that do not allow their students to use gender-specific words and some universities have banned the usage altogether. However, this remains confined to foreign universities. Although this discourse is still underway, people are being given the choice to appear without any prefix. Some gender study researchers have argued that name is enough to determine the sex of the individual and shouldn’t be specifically stated.
This entire debate in the “global context” and in the “Indian context” affects how the third gender is perceived. Gay rights activists are bound to support the decision of removing salutations considering the long-term struggle to identify themselves as Mr. or Mrs. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 that was approved on 20th July 2016 ensures that the community has the right to identify themselves not as ‘male’ or ‘female’ but as the third gender. Special care has been given to transgenders to emerge from their historical socio-cultural and economic deprivation in order to create a gender just society. They have been put under the umbrella of OBC and have the Indian Government’s support for social welfare schemes, public awareness campaigns, and special public infrastructure. While this law is grappling to put an end to the struggle of the LGBT community, the debate about India welcoming the change to removing the prefix becomes even more pertinent. The idea is simply not to remove the salutations at large, but to create a society that treats everyone equally.
In my perspective, since a revolution has started on lines of gender equality and including the third gender, why not carry it out from bottom to top. This argument will be misunderstood stating that very little difference would be made by using or not using the salutations, but this initiative in the long term is a prerequisite for evolving societies. The change would be small but it would surely create an impact. Thus, I feel that it should start from the school and college level, in order to be able to penetrate into the society. The very idea of not differentiating individuals in terms of he/she does sound ambiguous in a society we live in, but it’s high time we go beyond the initiatives already in place. There are different perspectives on whether removing of salvations will make any difference or not, but what is sure is that it would definitely change how the third gender perceives themselves.
While Centre for Social Research supports the new law of ‘The Transgenders Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016’, the debate about removing the salutations still has a long way to go. CSR has gone beyond in understanding that gender is a fluid concept and perhaps a social construct. It has changed and evolved immensely in contemporary times. This is evident in the gender training institute that targets all age groups and sectors thus helping build an all round understanding of gender norms. This training builds a perspective that not only is gender neutral but also that gender can go beyond the box of he/she. It attempts to talk not only about what issues exist that is a barrier to gender equality but also how they can be challenged.
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