Pronoun Buttons

Disclaimer: This is not a technical article. If it’s not your thing, please feel free to skip it.

If you saw me in the labs at WWDC, you might have noticed I was wearing one of these buttons:

I wanted to talk a little more about why I was wearing one (specifically, the he/him/his one) and what it means to me. It’s actually pretty simple:

  • We tend to guess a person’s gender based on their body, voice, name, and even fashion choices.

  • This is a heuristic, meaning it will be wrong some of the time.

  • It’s polite to refer to someone correctly.

    As an example, if you’ve ever referred to me as “she” because my name (“Jordan”) can be female in English…that’s an understandable mistake. But it’s still not correct; “she” is not a correct way to refer to me.1

  • It’s polite to refer to someone correctly…but you often don’t need to refer to them in the third person until after your conversation is over (at which point it’s too late to ask).

  • There are some people whose gender isn’t really “male” or “female” (and thus both “he” and “she” would be incorrect).

Pronoun buttons (or putting pronouns on name tags / badges) are a way to solve this problem. This way, no one’s guessing, and if everybody’s wearing them—not just the people who don’t fit the heuristics—then it’s normal, rather than a mark of the people who are Different. It’s the least we who do fit the heuristics can do.

(Obviously not everyone was wearing them at WWDC, but the point is to make it normal.)

You don’t have to go to all the trouble of printing buttons to help out here. Just write your pronouns on your name tag next time you go to an event with name tags. Eventually everyone will do it.

(Thanks, Peter, for coming up with this this year, and for printing and handing out the buttons.)

  1. An analogy would be mispronouncing someone’s name. The first time you do it, it’s an honest mistake, but if you don’t make the effort later (and the person hasn’t specifically said they don’t mind), you’re kind of a jerk↩︎