The SE Code of Conduct has been changed in regards to the use of pronouns when referring to users.

There is a fair amount of discussion at MSE What does the Code of Conduct say about pronouns? and on the blog https://stackoverflow.blog/2019/10/10/iterating-on-inclusion/.

The changes can be summed up as "Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain" and "Use stated pronouns (when known)".

In addition to the public discussion, there are also private discussion about how to enforce these changes. Based on these discussions it seems SE's take on the situation is that if you are trying to avoid a user's pronouns, then you are on thin ice regardless of if your objection is on religious, grammatical, or thought police grounds, or any other argument.

  • 18
    I'm honestly so confused how a change that can truly be boiled down to your one-sentence third paragraph is generating this much angst. Oct 10 '19 at 22:19
  • 15
    @AzorAhai The issue is that a moderator was dismissed, and that dismissal has been linked to these changes by the community (although SE's stated position is that she was in violation of the previous CoC, since this one was not yet in effect nor even written). Unfortunately, people seem to be taking out their displeasure with the dismissal on the CoC changes themselves.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Oct 10 '19 at 22:55
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    @BryanKrause Most of the answers on the "Official FAQ" link are about pronouns, not Monica. That is what I was referring to, sorry for the confusion. Oct 10 '19 at 23:22
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    @AzorAhai Yes I know, but I think a lot of the sentiment shared there is based on opinions about the mod dismissal. That is, if people are upset about what happened to Monica, and perceive these changes to be what's behind it, then they are more apt to find criticisms and lawyer around the stated policy. Someone might say "Well what about (x)?" when they really mean "All Monica did was (x) and she didn't deserve dismissal for it." It's the ultimate XY problem.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Oct 10 '19 at 23:31
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    @AzorAhai I think there must be enough users across the network who don't see use people's pronouns as a subset of be nice, that they needed to state it outright. I hope for us it is not an issue, but we will see.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 10 '19 at 23:49
  • 1
    Some of us were trained to write reports in the 3rd person singular as part of striving for clarity, so tend to write answers the same way: “this should be checked” instead of “you should check this”...
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 11 '19 at 13:21
  • @AzorAhai I agree, but there you go ;-) Any CoC change will tend to generate angst, though, because (a) SE tends to have a lot of rules-lawyers, and (b) A good CoC does not try to set everything out in rigid rules.
    – Flyto
    Oct 11 '19 at 18:33
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    It's funny... The most important problem in this world is to use preferred pronouns of the people?! OK... I believe it's just some sort of geeky people's game that admire far left wings factions not so realistic ideas... See here: politics.stackexchange.com/q/46630/22857 Oct 14 '19 at 18:10
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    @AloneProgrammer there are many problems in the world; it is worth paying attention to more than just the most important one(s).
    – Flyto
    Oct 15 '19 at 17:37
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    @AloneProgrammer I wonder where you got the impression anyone considers this "the most important problem in the world." Oct 15 '19 at 23:35
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    @AzorAhai - I guess it depends on your own lived experience. I'm glad to hear this has not been a major (or even a minor?) problem for you. Oct 18 '19 at 2:39

Thank you for this update!

I know it's a touchy subject at the moment, but just taken at face value I am actually rather happy about this new CoC and the thought behind it. Especially:

Based on these discussions it seems SE's take on the situation is that if you are trying to avoid a user's pronouns, then you are on thin ice regardless of if your objection is on religious, grammatical, or thought police grounds, or any other argument.

I have to say that I support this line of thinking. If we want Stack Exchange to be a truly inclusive community, avoiding the use of a preferred pronoun because you don't agree with them isn't good enough.

That said, it seems almost like a theoretical issue on this Stack Exchange. From the top of my head I can't think of a single question / discussion here that did not fall into either "person clearly identifies as male -> use him", "person clearly identifies as female -> use her", or "no identifiable gender -> use them". It's my understanding that this is still completely ok with the new CoC.

  • 9
    It's my understanding that this is still completely ok with the new CoC. No, as far as I understand it's not. Every time you post you have to check the user's profile, and if they state that their preferred pronouns are ve/vir/vis, or Autobahn/Leberwurst/Schadenfraude, then you have to use them. See Q4, Q8, and Q9 in the FAQ. Oct 11 '19 at 8:46
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    @FedericoPoloni My understanding is that I have to not go out of my way to figure out what a user's preferred pronoun is (although checking their profile does not seem too much to ask, imo), and if I learn / am told that their prefered pronoun is "ve" you can bet that I will use it going forward.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 11 '19 at 10:51
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    @FedericoPoloni And regarding the "Autobahn/Leberwurst/Schadenfraude" example - I guess flagging for offensive would be my starting point, since it's fairly clear what the intention behind such a "preferred pronoun declaration" is.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 11 '19 at 11:00
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    @FedericoPoloni while lots of users are claiming you have to check profiles, all the official responses have been that you do not. I can assure you that the mere presence of pronouns in the profile is insufficient for you to be formally reprimanded.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 11 '19 at 12:05
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    @StrongBad The FAQ also does not talk about "formally reprimanding" at all. For instance, Q4 says "we encourage you to gently correct them in a comment" if you see that somebody was not using the preferred pronoun. So it's not that you will be hunted down like a wild animal for not spotting that somebody has an unusual preferred pronoun - but of course if you make a point out of using the wrong pronoun on purpose, things may (and should) be different.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 11 '19 at 12:18
  • @xLeitix I agree with you completely in spirit, but I don't think you can flag a user profile as offensive. Oct 11 '19 at 12:32
  • @FedericoPoloni Was thinking about a comment, but fair enough. I guess there is some way to report a user, but I can happily say that I never had the need to figure out how to do it.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 11 '19 at 12:32
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    @StrongBad Could you please share a link to one of these official responses? I couldn't find one. There isn't anything in the FAQ (which looks like it should be the place to put it), and actually Q5 seems to point to the opposite direction: if I misgender users 10 times because I don't routinely look at profiles before answering, I might get suspended. Oct 11 '19 at 12:34
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    @FedericoPoloni If you find a user who has something offensive in their profile, you can flag any post of the user for moderator attention, explaining what's wrong.
    – Massimo Ortolano Mod
    Oct 11 '19 at 12:35
  • @FedericoPoloni I can still see the comments by clicking on the links I posted, not sure what's going wrong. If it helps, I'm talking about comments left by employees under this answer and this one.
    – Arnaud D.
    Oct 11 '19 at 12:37
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    @FedericoPoloni your example is a little more involved. If you misgender someone 10 times and on the 11th they correct you, that is essentially the same as if they corrected you the first time. If you misgender some 10 times and after every time they correct you, and on the 11th time they flag you, you can expect a mod message, but you might not get a mod message if the incidents are spread out over a couple of years and/or the user has changed their username/avatar.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 11 '19 at 18:01
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    @FedericoPoloni I agree that a literal reading of the CoC leaves this possibility open ("willful, repeated, or abusive behaviour). It's not uncommon to have CoCs be written a little fluffily given that one does, in practice, want to enable mods to deal with particularly egregious behaviour without enabling rules lawyering. Two months ago, I would have no problem with that, but I understand that given Monica's recent CoC-related expulsion the community is not trusting SE to apply these rules in their actual spirit. So, yeah.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 12 '19 at 8:50
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    @FedericoPoloni "[I]f they state that their preferred pronouns are... Autobahn/Leberwurst/Schadenfraude" This is just the same argument that allowing people to use the toilet of their identified gender allows men to say "I identify as a woman" and be sexually abusive in the women's toilets. If that starts happening, we'll deal with it. For the time being, it's not happening and this slipperly slope is a non-argument. You don't, for example, object to addressing StrongBad as "StrongBad": I'm pretty sure that's not their actual name, but you're OK with that made-up noun. Oct 17 '19 at 8:34
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    @FedericoPoloni OK. They're clearly being jerks so ignore them. How hard is that? Oct 17 '19 at 9:10
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    @FedericoPoloni In borderline cases, you ask. "Those aren't pronouns I've seen before -- is there a link where I can learn about them?" It's always impossible to tell sufficiently advanced trolling from reality, and it's impossible for the policy to specify the exact boundaries of what is and is not acceptable. Oct 17 '19 at 9:45

I only became aware of this policy and the controversy surrounding it yesterday. I wholeheartedly agree that the intent of the policy is admirable -- StackExchange should be inclusive of all gender identities. However, I am astounded by how poorly this has been implemented.

I think there are three issues that are causing uproar across the SE network:

  1. Under the new Code of Conduct, gender-neutral language (e.g., using name only instead of pronouns) is not acceptable in certain circumstances.
  2. Details of those circumstances are unclear. Where is the line drawn with respect to bad-faith pronouns? How do you decide if the intent of gender-neutral language is to avoid preferred pronouns?
  3. StackExchange's management of the issue has not been reasonable. One moderator was summarily "fired" for unclear reasons (allegedly for repeatedly violating the CoC, but this is disputed). Several other moderators have "resigned" or suspended moderation in protest, including one moderator here.

I really appreciate what SE offers and I am saddened to see this issue becoming so acrimonious. (We hardly even use pronouns.) So I hope that these issues are resolved amicably soon.

  • My response to your second point (and possibly even the first) is "that's why we rely on moderation in the spirit of the rules rather than rules-lawyering, thanks to the excellent moderators on this site". Re your third point, I agree, but I don't think it's actually germane to the adoption of the new CoC on Academia.
    – Flyto
    Oct 15 '19 at 17:40
  • You should read this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/335074/… to have a better idea of the overall tension and animosity that is currently present in MSE but above all among SO users. The users whose contributions made Academia.SE possible. If the flagship sinks, we all go down with her.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 15 '19 at 21:23

Speaking from the "other side", I would like to commend you on your thoroughly professional summary of the acrimony:

"In addition to the public discussion, there are also private discussion about how to enforce these changes. Based on these discussions it seems SE's take on the situation is that if you are trying to avoid a user's pronouns, then you are on thin ice regardless of if your objection is on religious, grammatical, or thought police grounds, or any other argument."

I'll finish with my point of view, but in maintenance of this high tone, allow me point out additional logs on this fire:

  • Coerced speech (debatable, but hardly dismissable out of hand)
  • The predictable and often demonstrated use of policies like this to exclude those who feel that words do not harm people, and who would like to go on using the English language
  • Political and corporate standards of "truth" frequently differ from those verifiable through science, and hard sciences vs soft science display the same disparity

I bring up that last not to litigate the issue, but to point out that it still exists.

This new CoC shuts down conversation, even on the topic of sex/gender/culture issues, by making abominable any discussion which strays from a corporate-friendly approach.

Orwell's point was that if the language is controlled, then that which may be said is thereby controlled.

My most neutral analysis, which I think should be agreeable to a majority of SE users, is that this is an example of the corporate side of SE stepping across a line of propriety in what should be a community-managed matter. I understand and sympathize with the corporate motivation to ensure a squeaky clean, unassailably politically correct platform. I feel they have gone too far in providing this level of comfort to themselves.

My strictly personal position is this -- I am not about to use a bunch of made-up pronouns. Pronouns in English are a closed set. English of course lacks a dedicated second person plural (as distinct from the singular "you"), which is why it has evolved "y'all". No code of conduct anywhere states that I must use the term "y'all" in order not to offend pluralities. It's not the business of the organization which runs a website to police at that level. "Y'all" is debated on a continuing basis between those who like it and those who don't. Likewise, if I don;t like the neologisms "xe" and "tey", I should remain free to point out, without being abusive, that I do not recognize these arbitrary additions to the language. I would of course expect some flak for that.

I would not expect to be counseled by a corporate droid, or kicked off of a site dedicated to the sharing of knowledge through the medium of language.

  • 8
    For someone who feels so adamant about the importance of language to express thought, you seem oddly against the need for new words to express ideas that have historically been oppressed. By not excepting that the use of third person gender neutral pronouns for some people, you are advocating the suppression of diversity of thought.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 20 '19 at 13:51
  • 1
    I'm read up on my Alinsky. Is your comment the tone we may expect going forward?
    – user52962
    Oct 20 '19 at 15:18
  • I tried to keep my comment focused on what I see as a logical inconsistency in your answer. If you think my tone was rude, I apologize as that was not the intent. You can also flag the comment and another mod can review my tone.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 20 '19 at 15:59
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    The point of language is to express thought; refusing to accept words which have evolved to express newer thoughts (or at least thoughts which are now expressed openly more often) is doing the opposite. Oct 20 '19 at 17:09
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    None of which -- referring to all of the above -- is a good argument for making your new words mandatory.
    – user52962
    Oct 20 '19 at 22:11
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    @HaakonDahl you are correct, none of the above comments address the concerns about coerced speech. The CoC says that you can always disengage and you are never forced to engage so I find the arguments for compelled speech to be really weak. What the CoC is doing is defining a single form of speech that complies with "be nice". It is still not clear to me if it is implying that all other forms of speech when pronouns are known are not nice.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21 '19 at 15:25
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    All language is "made up".
    – Flyto
    Oct 21 '19 at 19:15
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    This is a debate over human nature masquerading as a debate over language. And on stack exchange, the community must now be of like mind about human nature. This is thought police by language control. Look for instance at the guidance offered in case one suspects another of using "troll pronouns". Well what if I think the whole thing is "troll pronouns"? That this is just another facet of cultural Marxism hammering (and sickling) away at the roots of western civilization? Oh, I know, you disagree, and you're going to let me know just how. With enforcement at your back.
    – user52962
    Oct 22 '19 at 0:50
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    New CoC, Literally: "You are not free to not use certain words in case you disagree." Saying "You can always leave" does not somehow save this from being coercive. There's no gun required for coercion. It's conditional, and not the same as excluding, say, foul language.
    – user52962
    Oct 22 '19 at 0:57

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