Reversing pronouns as a test for sexism

I recently saw a post deriding the practice of determining whether something is sexist by swapping the gender of all the pronouns — and by extension naively switching genders of everyone involved. I had an immediate negative response to this post — I do use that technique rather frequently and it serves me reasonably well. Then I stopped to think a bit more.

I use gender reversal as a test for how I portray people in media I create. When I’m writing, when I’m blogging, when I’m creating games, I stop every once in a while and think: is this character acting in a way that would be horribly odd if she were a guy? If this had the same gender ratio, but flipped the other way around, would that seem unusual? And those are valuable checks. It’s just a start — I then have to go through the giant set of gendered tropes and ensure I’m avoiding all of the worst and most of the rest — but it’s a useful and fast tool.

How else could you use gender reversal? You can try to apply it to real world decisions. This is immediately problematic because you’re severing the context and replacing it with a much different one. You come up with silly results, like thinking that housing projects for the poor are unfair because rich people don’t need them, or that affirmative action is racist because white people already have good access to education and jobs. These judgments are obviously idiotic once you put them that way, but somehow people never take that simple extra step of talking about context.

Of course, when people do think about context, they typically assume whatever makes them feel good — specifically that equality has already been reached. But that’s a separate issue.

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