BC Government Seeks to Promote Gender Equity by Wiping Gender From the Map
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On International Women’s Day, the BC government decided to celebrate women by introducing legislation that would wipe out more than 2300 references to women’s pronouns in the province’s legislation. Bill 14, the Miscellaneous Statutes (Modernization) Amendment Act, contains 1200 clauses, each one striking out phrases such as “his or her,” “he or she,” and “brother or sister” and replacing them with gender-neutral language. A couple of days later, the government introduced Bill 15, the Vital Statistics Amendment Act, which allows parents to opt out of listing their child’s sex on their birth certificate.
On its face, there is nothing wrong with using a noun instead of a pronoun in a given phrase. Whether I say “that’s her pen” or “that’s my boss’s pen” or whether your sex is listed on your birth certificate makes no material difference from a Christian perspective. From an English major’s standpoint, there might even be a benefit in using more specific language – “my boss’s” – instead of generic language – “her” – in our daily conversation. On the other hand, saying in legislation that “the individual knows that the individual” is a bit awkward. Some people might view it as a win for privacy rights that official documentation like birth certificates lists less information.
The problem with the abolition of gendered language is the motivation behind it. The government’s goal here is not specificity or clarity or privacy: it’s the progressive mantras of diversity, equity, and inclusion that, although nice sounding, often lead to the minimization of differences or even the dismissal of people with politically incorrect characteristics.
“Words have a powerful effect, whether written or spoken, and all British Columbians deserve to see themselves reflected in B.C.’s programs and services,” said Brenda Bailey, BC’s Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation, in the government’s press release. “We know that outdated language across government can exclude thousands of people. That’s why we’re taking action to replace these words with diversity, equity and inclusion at the top of our minds.”
“Trans and non-binary people, particularly youth, can be erased by laws that use only he and she,” said Adrienne Smith, litigation director at the Catherine White Holman Wellness Society trans legal clinic. “This change signals to those people that they are important, and that they are included and protected by the law.”
There are some profound truths and some profound falsehoods in those statements. Minister Bailey is absolutely right that words have a powerful effect. In fact, language is the main buttress supporting the modern redefinition of gender. A self-identified radical feminist turned Catholic professor, Abigail Favale, in The Genesis of Gender describes how “a man who claims to be a woman is a woman in language only. For the postmodernist, that’s enough, because all of reality, all of what we consider “true,” is linguistically constructed. This means that the construct of gender identity must be continually buttressed by language in order to appear true… that is what’s at stake in the battle over pronouns: our understanding of reality itself.”
(Thankfully, birth certificates will still list the person’s “sex” rather than their “sex assigned at birth.” The transformation of language hasn’t gone quite that far yet.)
On the other hand, the claim that people can be erased by laws that use gendered language is entirely false. To suggest that people who identify as non-binary aren’t protected in law when the law mentions “he or she” doesn’t give much credit to those who interpret the law. That gendered language describes people as they truly are – created male or female in the image of God. Rather than erasing people, this gendered language grounds people back in objective reality. Contrary to the storyline in recent Marvel films, we don’t inhabit a multiverse where everyone has their own reality. We live in a universe where we share a common reality. (And that’s something we can be eternally grateful for; imagine trying to coordinate a society where everyone’s clocks ran at different speeds or gravity pulled people in different directions!)
If the government truly desires to celebrate women, perhaps they should think about keeping them in BC’s laws and identification documents rather than wiping gender identities – of both men and women – from the map.
 Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2022), 160–61.