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Rising Voices

Pronouns and Progressivism: Nothing Is Easy

This month our Rising Voices Fellows reflect on their experiences of the fellowship over the past year. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.

The Rising Voices Fellowship was an experience unlike any other I’ve had before. It offered new insights on so many areas of life: feminism, Judaism, writing, working with others, personal growth, community... and I could go on. Needless to say, I’ve learned more things this year than I can list. But I can still offer a small sample:

Deadlines Are Not A Measure of How Much Time You Have Left to Slack Off

Now, whether or not I actually listen to my own advice on this one is another story entirely. But apologizing for every draft that was hastily put together at the last minute just gets embarrassing after a while.

Use the time before your deadlines to think things through. Your writing will improve and you’ll be so much less stressed. A high school writing fellowship like this one is, in many ways, training for later jobs in the same discipline. I’ve gotten away with last-minute work a few times, but I can’t help but imagine myself as a professional journalist with a very strict boss. What would happen to me then? I spent more time working on my first blog post than any other, and not only is it still my best post in my eyes, but I had fewer of those worries.

I Really Like Talking About Myself

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

At any given moment, I usually have only two frames of reference: my own life, and some TV show that no one in my present company has ever seen or heard of. I hate sounding like an egotist. But when I have to respond to a specific prompt, I often end up talking about myself in order to answer.

And you know what? The ideas I get out of talking about my life are not so terrible. Take, for instance, my civil rights post from late January. I admit that I was at a loss when I first received the prompt: I am no history buff, no matter what the era. To choose my subject and say something interesting about it, I had to first think of a way to relate to it that would hold my interest: Hispanic culture. As a result, the post turned into something much more personal than you might expect a post about history to be. But for me, it was something of a catharsis.

I’ve always been the girl who interacts with friends by listening as they talk around me. I’m always itching to share a story and add to the conversation, but I’m also always so afraid of being an attention hog. But this is the Internet; if someone doesn’t want to hear about my life, they are free to ignore it. I won’t know the difference, but I will still have gotten to share my story.

“Being Progressive” Is Not As Simple As It Sounds

Now, I’m about to say something about myself that I would not be so willing to admit even if I were an attention hog: I have always hated the word “cisgender.”

A part of it is purely phonic—the way I read it, it could be pronounced like “KISS-gender” or “CYST-gender,” both of which both sound kind of icky as words. But just as big a part of it is the fact that I’m happy having been born female and am turned off by the hassle of modifying it. I would never be cruel to a person for being transgender; the few times I have encountered someone who was, I was happy to adapt my pronoun usage to their preference. But nonetheless, my thoughts have always been akin to, “Everyone is their birth gender until they say otherwise.” And that just reeks of someone who ignores bigotry because they are on the side that benefits from it.

And here’s where Rising Voices comes in. Through this fellowship, I got to know a diverse (and wonderful!) group of girls, and although none of them are transgender themselves, some of them are much better educated on topic than I am. Through them, I’ve been exposed to arguments and testimonies on how we should all be more conscientious about how we handle gender on a daily basis. And I’ve realized that, as progressive as I think I am, I was being closed-minded; I needed to revisit my views on transgender issues.

And it’s not easy to do. I’m still resistant towards “cisgender,” and sometimes I rock out to “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla” and find myself reminiscing about when pronouns were easy. But just like any other kind of activism, cultivating yourself to be better is a process. And it’s a pretty darn important one.

Students writing at the library
Full image
Work with schools: writing a composition, girls wearing straw hats, bent over their work, ca. 1910s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

How to cite this page

Harrington-Verb, Marissa . "Pronouns and Progressivism: Nothing Is Easy." 13 May 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 26, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/pronouns-and-progressivism-nothing-is-easy>.

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