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Political Correctness About Gender

Posted on 10th January 2016

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This (as reported in this BBC story) is the kind of nonsense that makes me mad.

The report is about how the Commons Women and Equalities committee is pressing the case to have a person's gender declared "not relevant" and removed from official documents such as passports and driving licences. The argument is that it creates an "unconscious bias" in job applications.

Although I am generally not a fan of the way that political correctness is warping our language, I do understand that there are cases where common terminology can cause insult or even bias. Having said that, can we please have a bit of common sense about the matter!

Passports and driving licences exist to prove people's identity. They need to give some basic information (in addition to a photograph) to allow other people to confirm that a passport or driving licence belongs to the person in question. Gender is a reasonable component of that basic identification information. Just like hair colour, eye colour, height and age, the information might be a little confusing: people can dye their hair or wear a wig, wear coloured contact lenses, wear high-heeled shoes, look younger than they are due to make-up or surgery, and dress as, or actually be, a different gender than is stated on the ID. That, however, is not a reason for removing information that does actually help to identify people in most cases.

If gender identification on ID documents is causing bias against job applicants, then the problem is not with the ID documents, but with the demand that ID be provided for job applications.

I am not against people who occupy the gender middle-ground. I have met many transgender and transvestite people, and worked with some, and I don't have any issue with them. I have no wish to insult them, but that doesn't free them from the normal obligations to be identifiable when needed. Maybe what is needed is one or more new gender definitions for use on ID documents, which specify the gender in a non-insulting way that is still useful for identification: maybe "TBD" for people in the process of gender reassignment, "Male (as Female)" and "Female (as Male)" for people who sometimes dress as the other gender.

The people who do not conform to the classic norms of our society are nevertheless a part of our society, and more and more of them are no longer hiding their true selves away from public gaze. I fully approve of this trend. I absolutely disapprove of the unfounded reactionary prejudice that such people are sometimes met with, but screwing up our language in the name of political correctness is not the answer. Prejudice needs to be addressed properly, in schools, through role models, in advertising, etc.