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Murderbot pronouns: A snapshot of changing gender conventions in the United States

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The ways in which US English speakers use third person personal pronouns for agentive beings require gendering the person based on the gender binary (he or she). In recent years, activism by transgender and non-binary individuals has accelerated a shift in this requirement, building on scholarly debate in the 1970s–90s that unseated he as a gender-neutral (epicene) pronoun. This has laid the groundwork for the gradual acceptance of singular they and the idea of preferred pronouns. In 2017, reviewers of the popular novella All Systems Red (Wells) addressed the dilemma of choosing an epicene pronoun for a genderless, cyborg protagonist called Murderbot. Of 667 reviews collected in December 2017 that describe Murderbot, almost 85 per cent attempt to respect Murderbot’s pronouns (it, its) despite discomfort with using it for agentive beings. This suggests an increase in US public culture awareness that the gender binary does not include everyone and may warrant optimism for improved conditions for gender non-conforming individuals.
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Keywords: epicene pronouns; gender binary; non-binary gender; preferred pronouns; science fiction; transgender

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Lake Forest College 2: Scholar-at-large

Publication date: 01 September 2018

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  • Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture (QSMPC) is a refereed academic journal devoted to the study of representations and expressions of queerness in its various forms. International in scope and representing a wide variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, it publishes scholarship on topics at the intersection of media/popular culture and queerness in gender/sexuality. QSMPC invites articles and artwork pertaining to queerness in media and popular culture, as well as reviews pertaining to recently released queer media artifacts.
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