What are little boys made of?
"Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of !"
What are little girls made of?
"Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!"

19th century nursery rhyme

Snips and snails and puppy dogs tails... It's always seemed to me that boys were getting the raw end of the deal in this poem. But this blog isn't about what I think... It's what you think that I'm interested in. I have a series of projects I want to share with you to challenge your ideas about gender and maybe give you some food for thought... Give me your feedback, let me know what you're thinking!

Gender Neutral Pronouns

       The question which started this whole project for me was: "What would the world be like if we didn't differentiate between male and female?"

       Following that hypothesis through revealed a world of possibilities, where there would be, it seemed, a lot less prejudice. Indeed if we were all just people, instead of men and women, there would be no difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality, there would be no sexism or unequal pay, anyone could wear pink without being considered a sissy and we'd have twice the number of toilets at our disposition which would considerably reduce queuing time...

       However, the first obstacle to overcome in this endeavour would be language. Every day, we use gendered language to describe the world around us and whilst most words can be switched for a gender neutral alternative (ie: boy or girl = child, woman or man = person, queen or king = monarch, etc...), one of the most common expression of gender comes from the use of 3rd person pronouns. So I decided to investigate the alternatives:

Nominative (Subject)
Objective (Object)
Possessive Determiner
Possessive Pronoun
Reflexive Pronoun
It laughed
I called it
Its eyes gleam
That is its
It likes itself
One laughed
I called one
One's eyes gleam
That is one's
One likes oneself
Spivak (old)
E laughed
I called em
Eir eyes gleam
That is eirs
E likes emself
hu laughed
I called hum
Hus eyes gleam
That is hus
Hu likes humself
Phe laughed
I called per
Pers eyes gleam
That is pers
Phe likes perself
Singular They
They laughed
I called them
their eyes gleam
That is theirs
They like themself
Spivak (new)
Ey laughed
I called em
Eie eyes gleam
That is eirs
Ey like emself

A little background information:
  1. Traditional neutral pronouns:
  • It: "it" is the most common and the only definitive singular English gender neutral pronoun. It is only used however in impersonal constructions and to refer to abstractions, places, inanimate objects, materials or non-human life of low order or of unknown gender. It has an extremely impersonal connotation, even offensive, because it connotes that the person being specified is inferior to person or an object.

  •  Universal He: the use of "he" to refer to a person of unknown gender was prescribed by manuals of style and school books from the early 18th century until around the 1960s (for ex: "The costumer brought his purchases to the cashier for check-out"). Its use can be compared to the use of the word "man" to talk about humans in general (for ex: "all men are created equal"). Today, this universal "he" is construed as prejudicial.
  • One: some sentences can be rephrased to use the impersonal pronoun "one", which can be used as "one", "one", "oneself" and "one's", however there is no strong analogous for hers and yours. It is usually considered as overly formal and people tend to avoid it. It is most often associated with monarchs, such as Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Singular They: the singular "they" has been in use since at least the 15th century and is used as "they", "them", "themself" and "their". It has become an increasing accepted fashion to use it as singular gender-neutral pronoun. However, it can lead to some confusion when used as to whether the person is using "they" to refer to an individual or a group of people.
  1. Invented pronouns:
        Some groups and individuals have promoted the use of non-standard pronouns in the hope that they will become standard.

         For example:
  • Abbreviated pronouns: 'e (for he or she), 's (for his or her), h' (for him or her), 'self (for himself or herself)
  • zhe/ze, zher(s)/zer(s) and zhim/mer
  • hu, hus, hum, humself (derived from the word human)
       The greatest level of mainstream acceptance was for Charles Crozat Converse's 1884 proposal of "thon", which was featured in some dictionaries. "Co" was coined by feminist writer Mary Orovan in 1970. The pronoun "phe" was coined at Brown University and is now used in the faculty's Female Sexuality workshop. However, despite these worthy attempts, none of these pronouns have ever become part of mainstream language.

  1. Spivak Pronouns:
       There are 2 forms of Spivak pronouns, which are both derived from the pronoun "they" by dropping the "th". Old Spivak would be used as "e", "em", "eir", "emself" and "eirs". New spivak pronouns have simply replaced the "e" by "ey", most probably due to how closely "e" sounds like "he".
        These pronouns were put forward by mathematician-educator Michael Spivak after he took inspiration from an anthropologist's essay he'd read. They were used in a number of his books as well as in some computer interface programs.

 I believe that the Spivak pronouns are an acceptable alternative to traditional gendered pronouns and that given a proper platform in the public sphere, more people would be likely to adopt them in every day speech, which would help us challenge the boundaries imposed by gender on our lives. How about you give them a try? I will be consecrating a page of this blog to texts which have been gender-neutralised. How about you look up your favourite poem or speech and gender neutralise it using spivak pronouns and gender neutral vocabulary then send it in to this blog? I promise to add any gender neutral text you send in to this dedicated page. Be inspired! Get creative!


  1. English Pronouns is very important because its structure is used in every day conversation. The more you practice the subject, the closer you get to mastering the English language.

    Subject and Object Pronouns

  2. Table entry for Spivak (new) possessive determiner is "Eie eyes gleam". Shouldn't that be "Eir eyes gleam"?