Understanding Gendering: Small Changes to Make the Co-op A Safer Place

By Comanagers Finnley LoPresti, Devon Deering, & Sailor Winkelman

While checking out at People’s registers, you may be taking note of signs requesting: “Please refrain from gendering us. We appreciate it.” The signs are small, but have a big impact for staff members, Hands-on-Owners, and members of our community. Here, we try to tell you more about what “gendering” means, how it affects workers and community members, and how cultivating awareness around this is in alignment and activation of our Ends.

What is “gendering?”

Gender is deeply embedded in the language and interactions of our culture. It is common to use words like “miss,” “sir,” “ma’am,” “she,” “he,” “lady,” “man,” to describe a person. This is called gendering, because the language communicates about the gender of the person being spoken about, or to.

While we live in a culture in which some physical traits, personality traits, interests, or behaviors are often thought of to belong to a certain gender, a person’s gender identity is not something we can know based on observing any of these things. Gender is a very personal, internal experience of one’s identity and sense of self. Therefore, if we use gendered language to describe a person without knowing how they identify, it is very possible that we’re misgendering them – or calling them by a gender other than how they identify.

What is the impact of misgendering at the co-op?

Your authors are staff members at Peoples, are people who experience being misgendered regularly, sometimes many times a day. It is painful and frustrating every time. The effects of repeated misgendering during a shift, work-week, and years of working are profound. Quality of life, emotional well-being, and job security are just some examples of things that are impacted by repeated misgendering for customer service workers. We recognize that shoppers, Member-Owners, and members of our community are also affected by misgendering, and we want to extend our effort to create a more supportive culture to all who share space with us.

How can we avoid misgendering people?

What we are asking for are small changes to everyday language, which cultivate respect and inclusion of people of all gender identities.

1. Use gender-neutral language for people you don’t know.

Working in the store, we do not expect to get to know every person who comes through (though that would be nice!). We don’t expect everyone to know us, either. The expectation we would like to set for one another is to use gender-neutral language when addressing or describing a person whose gender you don’t know, keeping in mind that gender is something we don’t know just from looking at someone. We compiled a small chart to show some ways to replace frequently used gendered language with gender-neutral language:

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2.  Ask for a person’s pronouns as a part of getting to know someone new.

While we encourage gender-neutral language to avoid misgendering strangers, we often do get to know each other better. When meeting a new person, for example during a class, or volunteering together, we encourage you to ask their pronouns, and to introduce yourself with yours. Pronouns are words like “he,” “she,” and “they.”

Here’s a sample dialogue:

Person A: Hi, my name is Julie.

Person B: Hi Julie, my name is Sam.

Person A: Hi Sam. What are your pronouns.

Person B: They/Them

Person A: Ok. Mine are She/Her. Nice to meet you!

Sam and Julie can avoid misgendering one another, because they had a conversation about what pronouns work for each person.  

3.  Question your assumptions about gender.

Both using gender neutral language, and making gender part of the conversation when meeting someone new rely on questioning the assumptions about gender that we have been exposed to from the dominant culture.

We encourage you to reflect on how this cultural shift could put us more in line with the Ends Statement, which informs the work we do at the Co-op. As “a passionate community working together for human rights, social and economic justice,” it is in line with our Ends Statement to cultivate awareness around oppressive systems, and hear each other’s experiences within them. By practicing gender-neutral language in the Co-op and community, we participate in dismantling cultural norms that exclude and harm people of all gender identities. This is one of the many ways that our awareness and work help to create “a safe, welcoming community where all are valued.” By questioning our assumptions about the gender of people we do not know, our hope is that in doing so we can help make the Co-op, community, culture, and perhaps even the world at large a safer and more inclusive place for folks of all gender identities.