By The Yeshiva University College Democrats Executive Board
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment. You walk into class and see a person and they look female, act female, but their name is that of a male. The only thing you can do that can make them feel female until they legally change their name is use their pronouns. At the start of class, the professor does not ask for their pronouns and refers to the person using the pronouns he, him, and his. Internally, that student is either too self-conscious to speak up and correct the professor, or gets the impression that the professor doesn’t care about his or her pronouns. Using correct pronouns provides a safe space for everyone to express themselves, and they are the smallest way to acknowledge a person’s identity.
Over the past few weeks, the Yeshiva University College Democrats have taken up the pronouns initiative over Zoom. With the ability to rename our names on a Zoom call, our board and club members thought it would be the perfect opportunity to show off our pronouns to normalize their usage. One main difference between “syllabus week” at another college and Yeshiva is when the professor asks your name at another college, they often also ask for your pronouns. For example, at the start of the semester professors usually go around and ask the same questions, “name, where you live, and major.” What if Yeshiva asked for preferred pronouns as well? Unfortunately, no such thing is done. Pronouns aren’t a political issue; they are a sign of respect towards the receiving person. Similarly, assuming another person’s pronouns or inflicting a false identity onto that person is wrong and can be harmful.
“Misgendering is when someone’s pronouns are not respected, which can be an act of violence.” There is a difference between misgendering on purpose and misgendering by accident. If someone has expressly stated their pronouns to you, and you blatantly disrespect them because they do not conform to the gender norms you were raised to believe, then that is misgendering on purpose. If you meet a person for the first time and misgender them without knowing their pronouns, then that is misgendering an accident as long as you refer to them by their correct pronouns in the future. So let’s talk about misgendering on purpose. If you are constantly misgendering a person, that action would be considered harassment and an act of violence. Being called something that makes you uncomfortable consistently is considered bullying. If, for example, you were in middle school and a classmate frequently called you an “idiot” that would be regarded as harassment and bullying. The same logic applied to misgendering. In the workforce, and in colleges, that person has the opportunity to file a Title IX report against you, and you would be at risk of losing your job.
Leviticus states that as Jews we must “Love your fellow as yourself.” To love a fellow Jew as yourself does not mean to love only a select few and exclude everyone else. As Jews, we must strive to accept and love everyone because not only is it written in the Torah, but Rabbi Akiva agrees, stating that this particular verse is a “major principle of the Torah.” We are meant to bring the Jewish people together and tear down the walls that divide us to bring peace amongst ourselves. This starts with accepting everyone for who they are and, subsequently, their pronouns because that is a part of them.
At Yeshiva, it is unsafe to assume that all the students attending the school go by their “appeared” pronouns (ex. A person who looks female but prefers a different set of pronouns not specific to their gender). There are students at Yeshiva who are gender non-binary and may prefer to be called they and them, but instead are forced to choose a gendered pronoun. This is why our club has started this initiative. We want to start making students and professors comfortable with pronouns on the screen, so hopefully, that same sentiment can be transferred into the classroom one day.