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I've recently found 2 edits in my edit queue that were nothing but changing all the pronouns from he/him to they/them. I don't know what to mark these edits as. They don't improve or make the question worse. What should this type of edit be marked as be marked as?

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One small clarification, since it seems to have come up a bit in discussion. It’s true that correcting pronouns, including towards gender neutral pronouns where relevant, is a positive contribution. When folks come across this organically, it should be changed and is an improvement to the post. However, folks shouldn’t go well out of their way to make these changes unless the pronouns a post uses are obviously incorrect (i.e. refer to a specific person improperly).

These edits should be treated like a minor improvement, except when pronouns refer to a specific person incorrectly, in which case they are quite important to do. Minor changes are generally welcome across Stack Exchange when the post needs other edits, or if the post is very new, or if you just come across a post organically and it’s bugging you. (And, of course, there's some variation for local site policies here.)

If we did not permit these changes, many posts would stay permanently gendered. But, it’s not generally worth a mass edit or a bump to many old posts at once.

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    $\begingroup$ many posts would stay permanently gendered I frankly fail to see why it should be a goal to change all posts or what the problem is with posts having non-neutral gender. The rules on gender use explicitly state we should refer to people by their own preferred choice of term where this is practical. Enforcing gender neutrality everywhere would be completely against that policy. $\endgroup$
    – StephenG
    Oct 6 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG Perhaps I was unclear - if the pronouns someone wants to be referred to with are known, using those pronouns will always take precedence over gender neutrality. $\endgroup$
    – Slate StaffMod
    Oct 6 at 13:59
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The edits were ridiculous

If the world has really come to the point where reading the words "he" or "she" are intrinsically offensive, then we've really come to a sad state of affairs. But I beg you, understand what I'm saying in its correct context.

The OP asked a question about a fictional world of their own creation. In that world, the OP makes the rules — and that most certainly includes the rules governing pronoun usage. Who is anyone on this Stack or working at Stack Exchange to tell the OP whether or not the use of any pronoun in their own question is inappropriate?

It's a somewhat different matter when answering a question

If the original question was written using gender-neutral language, then it would be appropriate for every answer to be written in the same gender-neutral language. In such a case, had someone forgotten because, perish the thought, they're old and suffering from the stress of overcoming decades of now politically-incorrect English language classes, then it would be appropriate to edit the answer and convert it to the same gender-neutral context as the question.

It's a very different matter when addressing a real and living person

The purpose of the Code of Conduct is to help us understand how to be civil with other real and living people using this service. In other words, were I to leave a comment to someone's post, but referring to another person's comment, and not knowing the gender/pronounce preference of the OP, then I would use gender-neutral language to avoid offense. Had I forgotten to do so, someone politely pointing out that I had is acceptable.

But I believe it is entirely inappropriate to force the OP to write gender-neutral questions

Changing the OP's post to gender-neutral language for the sake of using gender-neutral language is imposing a morality upon the OP that may not — and probably does not — reflect the OP's beliefs, culture, or the rules and systems of the world they are trying to create.

My point? Without asking the OP whether or not the question should apply to all possible gender combinations the editor could not possibly know whether or not the OP actually meant for the question to only be scoped for (in this case) biological males.

And it's the OP's right to scope their questions for a single gender, gender-preference, or gender-orientation. Thinking of the issue more globally, what's the point of even having a tag if the OP can't refer to gender in the question? (Yes, people, we have a tag....)

Conclusion

If it hasn't been clear to you, the edits made to OT-64 SKOT's post were nothing short of politically-correct Nazism. If you're inclined to edit someone else's post to fix pronoun usage, have the courage and courtesy to ask the OP for permission, first.

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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that this site explicitly incentives making edits to questions. The Archaeologist badge exists to reward people for editing old questions. Instead of immediately jumping to "politically correct Nazism" you could perhaps assume good intentions of the editor. They probably thought that gender wasn't relevant to the post and thought that making the pronouns gender neutral, would be a minor improvement. Remember that the OP always has the ability to revert an edit if it conflicts with their intent. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 4 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Ignoring the unwritten reality that this Stack loathes editing, the Help Center (to which you're probably referring) says, "To clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning)." Based on that rule, the edits to OT's posts were a violation of the Code of Conduct. It doesn't matter how good the intentions were. A person can shoot another person in the dark with good intentions. The irrelevancy of good intentions is why rules, ordinances, and laws exist. $\endgroup$ Oct 4 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I honestly haven't the slightest idea what you mean. I've never heard the idiom "overflowing a cookie" before. $\endgroup$ Oct 4 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact I fail to see the great harm in changing swordsman to swordsperson on a post where the gender of the combatant was not relevant? Judging by the post by Slate above, edits of posts where gender isn't relevant are OK and should be treated the same way as any other minor edit. To quote from the top of the help center section you mentioned "When should I edit posts? Any time you see a post that needs improvement " Between that and Slate's post it seems clear to me that when gender isn't relevant to the post there is no issue with editing it. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 4 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings While OT may have clarified the issue at some time, based on the original post, it is only your opinion that the gender of the combatant was not relevant. Hence my assertion that the correct course of action was to ask the OP. $\endgroup$ Oct 5 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Should I ask the OP before fixing spelling? It's my opinion that a spelling mistake isn't deliberate. We already allow minor edits in good faith. Which these most likely were. And if someone was wrong about gender not being relevant, the remedy would simply be to click on the revert edit button. I don't see posters reverting the edits. Additionally, they entered the review queue and were found by members of the community to be acceptable. It seems like there is a general agreement about this being a non-issue. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 5 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Sorry, I wasn't clear at all. Let me rephrase it in a much better way. Hmm... It's just that I find it weird that you take a quite rigorous (or vigorous? Or passionate) stand, while you wished that the world did not "has really come to the point where reading the words "he" or "she" are intrinsically offensive". Both point of views are taking strong stances in their own direction but on the same topic, if I dare saying so. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 5 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings We're not talking about spelling and if the issue were such a small one OT wouldn't have asked about it. You've come to the wrong shop for anarchy, brother. The OP has the right to express gender as he/she/they see fit and it's not within the Code of Conduct or the help center to permit it as without clarification of intent the reassignment of gender can and does change intent. If you want this to be otherwise, you need to get SE to change its rules. $\endgroup$ Oct 5 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact There's a staff member saying these edits are ok, doesn't seem like anarchy to me. None of OT-64's posts were modified. They asked about edits found while reviewing the suggested edits queue. They didn't see a problem with them. To quote from their question "They don't improve or make the question worse. What should this type of edit be marked as be marked as?" I'll remind you that the suggested edit queue has an option for conflicts with OP's intent. If reviewers felt like the edit changed the intent of the post the course of action was obvious. This wasn't the case. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 5 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings There's a staff member promoting the political agenda of Stack Exchange. And we're still making assumptions about OT's intent. Maybe we need to let OT tell us why he/she/they posted in Meta? Because my own interpretation is, "I don't accept the edits and don't know how to mark them." From my perspective, if OT didn't care or happily accepted the edit, this post wouldn't exist. $\endgroup$ Oct 5 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact The contradiction is that by taking this position, you make yourself look like one of them :/... I think it's the first time I read you telling about "arrogance" or "ridiculous" things. I'll detail my thoughts as an answer to your comment on my post, seems more appropriate as I can tackle the issues you raised, too. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 5 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ Did you remove your comment? I can't find it anywhere. Sad it is, I wrote an answer halfway through o_x. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 5 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I did NOT remove my comment - but I have noticed over the last few months that comments are being deleted. Both mine and others. Free Speech appears to be dying on Stack Exchange. $\endgroup$ Oct 7 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Rewrote my comment answer. I don't recall the details and could only base myself on what I wrote, so please forgive me if I made your words go astray like sheeps in the woods. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 7 at 17:49
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Changing the pronouns to make them inclusive is compliant with the Code of Conduct

Be inclusive and respectful.

Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes — tone is hard to decipher online. Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain. If a situation makes it hard to be friendly, stop participating and move on.

If the edit goes in that direction, it should be approved

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  • $\begingroup$ Ok, so approve them. Also it's not just that it goes in that direction. it's the only thing these edits do. There's literally nothing else to them. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Sep 26 at 7:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I am implying that the author always should have the final authority when it comes to specific words. WB.SE does not have an enforced style guide. Therefore, it is inappropriate to demand specific word usage. We can suggest an edit, but it is for the author to accept or revert it. Please also note that none of us is a mind reader, so we do not know the author's intent and the reasoning behind their choice of pronouns. Please do not assume that you know someone's work better than they do. It is rarely the case. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Sep 27 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ Mod note: If folks have other things to add to the discussion unrelated to L.Dutch's answer (i.e. not about the relevance and applicability of the Code of Conduct), please put them in other answers, rather than this comment thread! $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Sep 27 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 7 at 0:37
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Accept them under these conditions :

-If they don't damage the explicit message

The obvious part : If someone ask explicitly about women (or men) doing something related to their gender in society (ie. statuses in society, men/women relationships...), don't accept the changes as the message will be changed.

Now then, there's always a grey zone and this makes no exception. In these cases, you'll have to judge how much it can change (and therefore destroy) the message. For instance, you might find situations where people ask about... I don't know, an unknown "captain", or a "witch". Most of the cases, I'd say to still accept them -captain or witch- if no element implies an underlying gender. Using the example of the swordman swordperson, it doesn't matter in the end if they're male or female, so "they" is better. For the witch case, if it's a witch of fairytales and folklore with the crooked nose and riding a broom, might be better to stay with "she" as female fairytale witches are soooo much more depicted there, with the corresponding intentions. Or not, you're the judge!

-They're not the sole modification OR they're about recent (or recently edited) posts

They're the minor kind of modification. Editing a text makes the topic put back on top, allowing people to read it, yes, but also preventing new ones from getting more attention.

I don't think this kind of edit alone is worth that renewed attention. If there are other improvements like fixing grammar (including actual gender grammar fixes, e.g. : The "king and "her" wife), it might be worth it. If the "neutralification" is enormous and all over the place, then something is probably off regarding how the nature of the message will be changed, so think twice before approving. In anycase, just remember that editing does this secondary effect, too.

Why should you accept them?

Because the English tongue has the chance of having a gender neutral pronoun

I'll go in further detail about my perception of inclusiveness, and by doing this I hope it will feel more clear on why this has importance. So please, bear with me for a moment. The notion of gender inclusivity strikes a quite broad pattern, and as such, taking an equivalent stand between genders on tiny parts like pronouns can look like you're triggering your nuclear weapons as soon as one single ant shows up. Indeed, why be bothered by such little matter? I mean, it's just one or two words, right?

Here's the catch : In French, there's no neutral pronoun per say to define explicitly an external individual1. There is only "il" (he) and "elle" (she). The plurals are "ils" (they "masculine") and "elles" (they "feminine"). However, as soon as one guy enters the group of "elles", said group becomes "ils". Why? I honestly don't know why this rule has come to be2, but that's not what's important here. It's the fact that I asked the same question a long time ago with other kids : "Why?". That's only about an usage, but it pointed out to us that for some unknown reason, "women" become "men" if they're not exclusively "women". It's some difference which is -if not a little discriminative-, segregative. The English have the chance of the choice, so why don't you take it?

It's like how a mother chooses a blue toothbrush for her boy while he asked for the pink one, "telling pink is not for boys"3, in regard to that I ask directly "Why?". These are the tiny things and the way we adress them. And these things, like telling a "captain" is implicitly male creates unnecessary schism between the male majority (socially speaking) and the women minority.

However, does this mean that any "misuse" of he/she instead of "they" should be blasted away as soon as they're spotted? Niet :}i{:. Focusing on this tiny issue only brings it forward, it's taking up your rocket launcher to kill the ant. It's not necessary to make a fuss over it, especially as it can discred-hit the other persons -whether original poster or future editor- for almost nothing. Even asking about it seems quite much. And that's the paradox : You should do something about it, but at the same time you should not fight too much about it. That's why I would guess edits that do nothing but gender improvement to be a really big action for such purpose. Remember, edits put the question back on top :).

Because worldbuilding is not really about individuals

There are also other reasons which are about, I really don't know how to put it... "the oils of the site's mechanics"?

The use of he/she implies that there is an individual behind. And often times, when working at lower scale you are writing more story than writing worlds. That doesn't mean you should not use these pronouns, nor that everything about individuals are about stories. It's just an hint among others that the person was thinking more about a specific character in mind. And while such character can be interesting, it is most of the time irrelevant to the question.

Because we barely know the intention of the writer

Extending from the previous point. Alone, the pronouns are not enough to know why they have been chosen. Is it because it is of special importance to the understanding of the question? Is it some discrimination deeply rooted in the mind of people? Or is it just a language "mistake"? Only the first question can be answered, since if it was really important other elements in that direction would show up. And if they don't, then it's probably not that important in the first place.

We can't determine the reasons behind. And because we can't determine them, the choice of one pronoun over another will be personal to everyone. Might as well improve it by taking the chance English speakers have.


1 : The "on" pronoun is the most neutral in French, but it's generally used as in "Let's do this!", "We", or "some guy/gal/cat/dog".

2 : Though I have some ideas as to why this rule exists x_x...

3 : True story. The reason invoked was not that "it was more expensive", "I've already taken the blue one", "this one's better" or "your sister already has one so you won't know which one is yours". It was "blue is for boys, pink for girls". I bet the boy will know barely take pink items anymore, even though it would look nice and cozy on them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Someone wrote a comment here, but got it removed. I'm not really happy with that (the removal), since even though there were 1 quite crude word (and list, I dislike lists in comments), there were understandable points, and also I was halfway through answering it. I'm rewriting what I was working on and what I remember from the initial comment (x_x). Hopefully it will help people to better understand my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 7 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ First and foremost, there were some... Hmm-ey... Personal thoughts on how bad it is to edit the author's text and altering its meaning without knowing their intent. Welly wholly, that's exactly my point :}i{: ! You can't really determine what is the author's intention, especially on a single pronoun, and because no reader can't, the change is only meaningful to the writer themselves. In that regard, I take the stance of community cooperation, and prefer to try one's luck in wikipedia's fashion. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 7 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ When talking about the above point, one should mix both the 1st section of what should be accepted with the last section of why it should be accepted. I just don't know how to better put it (and I'm lazy to do it x_x), hence the absence of edit. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 7 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, there was a straying point in between, apparently. But I don't recall what it was about exactly. Guess it's about the use of they, he/she or something else as there is only a link from my draft here. That's less important matter, I guess :}i{:. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 7 at 17:46

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