Saguy and Williams, “A Little Word That Means A Lot: A Reassessment of Singular They in a New Era of Gender Politics,” Gender & Society 36:1 (2022)

Abstract: “Singular they has emerged as a key term in contemporary gender politics, reflecting growing usage of they/them as nonbinary personal pronouns. Drawing on interviews with 54 progressive gender activists, we consider how singular they can be used to resist and redo aspects of the prevailing gender structure. We identify three distinct usages of singular they: (1) as a nonbinary personal pronoun, (2) as a universal gender-neutral pronoun, and (3) as an indefinite pronoun when a person’s self-identified gender is unknown. While previous research on singular they as a gender-inclusive language practice has focused primarily on its usage as a nonbinary personal pronoun, our findings point to the relevance for gender politics of all three usages. Our analysis offers new insight into how nonbinary they challenges dominant gender norms and practices beyond incorporating additional gender categories. Given our findings, we propose further investigation of how using gender-neutral pronouns for everyone in specific contexts can advance progressive activists’ goals. Finally, we argue that the longstanding usage of singular they as an indefinite pronoun has new importance today in affirming gender as a self-determined identity.”