• Probiotic supplements may help obese children lose weight, study claims
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    The Independent

    Probiotic supplements may help obese children lose weight, study claims

    Obese children who take probiotic supplements alongside regular exercise are more likely to lose weight, a new study has claimed.Scientific researchers investigated whether probiotic supplements are beneficial for children who are overweight.

  • Gluten intake linked to higher risk of toddlers developing type 1 diabetes, study claims
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    The Independent

    Gluten intake linked to higher risk of toddlers developing type 1 diabetes, study claims

    The gluten intake of a toddler has been linked in new research, to a higher risk of developing type one diabetes.Unlike previous studies, the study involving 86,306 children in Norway, did not find any links between the child’s risk of developing type one diabetes and the mother’s intake of gluten.

  • Gareth Thomas’ HIV announcement leads to surge in inquiries, charity says
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    The Independent

    Gareth Thomas’ HIV announcement leads to surge in inquiries, charity says

    A charity reported a surge in calls and online inquiries after Gareth Thomas announced he is HIV positive.The former Welsh rugby captain shared a video on Twitter last Saturday in which he revealed he has HIV and said blackmailers previously threatened to reveal his diagnosis.

  • Women, looking unapproachable could be your greatest asset
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    The Guardian

    Women, looking unapproachable could be your greatest asset

    Meeting the world with a ‘resting bitch face’ may not be what society demands, but it protects you against unsolicited male attention in public. With girls as young as 13 years old now opting for Botox, it is clear that ageing is no longer the only thing women are trying to ward off. An article in the New York Post has noted a rise in women seeking plastic surgery to “fix” their so-called “resting bitch face”. This is a women-only affliction, where, even when wearing a neutral expression, you appear perpetually standoffish. In reality, it refers to any time that a woman’s facial expression is set in anything less than a smile. According to one doctor quoted in the piece, the number of requests for the procedure have more than doubled in the past year. This isn’t exactly shocking – women are made to feel bad about just about everything in terms of their appearance – but to me it seems many of these women are getting rid of something that is actually a great asset. In a world where simply being a woman is considered an invitation for unsolicited comments and unwarranted conversation from complete strangers, looking unfriendly is useful armour. It can, at times, be the only barrier between a woman and unwanted small talk on the tube, or a bar. Or on a run. Or on the high street. Or a public bench. Or even while in the middle of conversation with someone else. Heckling and catcalling are rife – should we not at least be allowed to look less than pleased about it? But that would grossly overestimate the amount of emotional intelligence and shame some men have. Because, like anything else, looking grim-faced can be, in and of itself, an invitation. If I had a quid for each of the times I have heard: “Smile, love, it might never happen” shouted at me across the street, I might have the money to rid myself of my own “resting bitch face”. When men say this, it never seems to occur to them that whatever the “it” in question is, it has probably already happened – one look at the world around you should be enough to realise there is often little to smile about. Yet Victoria Beckham’s signature scowl and Kristen Stewart’s tendency to mean-mug have merely culminated in more column inches requesting they turn that frown upside down or, at least, into something that is slightly less offputting. What all this tells us is that women must be amiable and approachable by default. Even when we’re not interacting, we must be poised and primed to do so. Tellingly, there is no “resting grumpy bastard face” equivalent for men – people are far less concerned about faces they don’t deem public property.

  • Football player Fran Kirby syncs training schedule with menstrual cycle
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    The Independent

    Football player Fran Kirby syncs training schedule with menstrual cycle

    Lioness and Chelsea FC football player Fran Kirby has spoken about the progress being made in women’s football – and how she and her team mates sync their training regimes with their menstrual cycles.The 26-year-old described how Chelsea FC focuses on player’s menstrual cycles and how they affect diet and training methods in an short film interview with Women's Health.

  • Rachel Riley says baby stopped moving in womb after online trolls caused her stress
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    The Independent

    Rachel Riley says baby stopped moving in womb after online trolls caused her stress

    Countdown star Rachel Riley has spoken about how she felt her baby stop moving in the womb for a couple of days after she was trolled online.The mathematician, who is expecting her first child with former Strictly Come Dancing dancer Pasha Kovalev, explained the impact trolling had on her mental wellbeing on podcast Trolled, alongside EastEnders actor Tracy Ann Oberman.

  • The two vintage baby names that re-entered the 'most popular' list for the first time in 100 years
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    Cosmo

    The two vintage baby names that re-entered the 'most popular' list for the first time in 100 years

    Get ahead of the game by calling your newborn something old-school.

  • Beyoncé says she’s proud of daughter Blue Ivy’s confidence in Making The Gift documentary
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    The Independent

    Beyoncé says she’s proud of daughter Blue Ivy’s confidence in Making The Gift documentary

    Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has expressed the pride she feels in her eldest daughter’s confidence in a clip from her new documentary Making The Gift.Earlier this week, the singer revealed that a documentary special about the creation of her recent The Lion King: The Gift album would air on American television network ABC on Monday evening.

  • Couple raise gender-neutral baby in bid to challenge society’s gender bias
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    The Independent

    Couple raise gender-neutral baby in bid to challenge society’s gender bias

    A couple are raising their toddler without telling it what sex it is, in a bid to “mitigate the gender bias that society places on children”.After taking the decision to bring up Anoush as gender-neutral, Jake England-Johns and Hobbit Humphrey refer to their 17-month-old as “they”, rather than “him” or “her”.

  • Victoria Beckham says she was ‘mentally and physically’ bullied at school
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    The Independent

    Victoria Beckham says she was ‘mentally and physically’ bullied at school

    Victoria Beckham has opened up about the impact bullying had on her as a child.The fashion designer features on the cover of Glamour UK‘s latest magazine.

  • I have to fantasise about porn to climax with my boyfriend
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    The Guardian

    I have to fantasise about porn to climax with my boyfriend

    I am left with a feeling of disgust and lingering guilt, but I don’t know what else to do. I’m a 20 -year-old woman and my boyfriend is 21. We have been together for a year. While I didn’t masturbate until I was 16 and I watch pornography once every few months, I still have to fantasise about porn scenes to be able to climax when we have sex. It disgusts me, but I don’t know how else to do it . After sex, while we are trying to relax and cuddle , I am left with a lingering feeling of guilt. Help my diseased millennial mind! Taking a practical approach in order to achieve orgasm during sex with a partner does not constitute a disease – or even something worthy of guilt. Most people make similar decisions at different times and in different situations. You are lucky to be able to trigger your own orgasm through fantasy – some people cannot. There is no perfect way to make love; when people are invested in trying to please each other and create a relatively brief sexual exchange, they often choose expediency over pleasure. But, if you want to have truly satisfying sex with sustained pleasure, you will both have to fully relax, allocate more uninterrupted time and approach lovemaking without the goal of orgasm for either of you. Your task should be simply to enjoy; you will have to banish distractions and focus solely on the giving and receiving of pleasure. Even so, you may feel the need to use separate fantasy to climax. This habit can be broken if you take the time to train yourself to be truly in the erotic moment. . Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders. . If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms . Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

  • Drinking tea may improve brain health, study finds
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    The Independent

    Drinking tea may improve brain health, study finds

    Tea-drinkers may enjoy benefits apart from caffeine boosts and relaxation, as researchers believe drinking tea could also be good for your brain.According to a new study by the National University of Singapore (NUS), regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions compared to non-tea drinkers.

  • Billie Piper says she feared bringing daughter Tallulah into 'a man's world'
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    The Independent

    Billie Piper says she feared bringing daughter Tallulah into 'a man's world'

    Billie Piper has revealed she was initially afraid of having a daughter who would be born into "a man's world".In an interview with Stylist magazine, the 36-year-old admitted she had “always worried” about having a daughter, adding that she was “surprised“ by how sensitive her two sons have grown up to be.

  • Just not sporty: how to embrace exercise as an adult if you disliked it as a child
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    The Guardian

    Just not sporty: how to embrace exercise as an adult if you disliked it as a child

    Bad memories of PE can give people the lifelong impression they’re not cut out for sport. But plenty of adults have left behind sedentary lifestyles – you just have to find the right approach. When Sarah Overall was a child, a PE teacher held the entire class back because Overall would not do the high jump. She was tiny – as an adult, she is under 5ft (1.5m) tall – and was scared of hurting herself on the metal bar. “I was too short to get over it,” she says. “I remember the whole class watching.” Netball was “pure hell”. She enjoyed hockey, which suited her body better, but she felt written off by her PE teacher. “I was like: ‘Do you not get that I actually work really hard at the things I can do?’” Now, years later, Overall is a personal trainer and sees the damage that bad PE lessons have had on her clients. “It’s pretty much everybody who comes to me,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve got anybody, especially a woman, who has said: ‘I was good at sport at school.’” It is something other trainers see, too. “Kids at school are not like babies and toddlers who try to crawl, fail, try to crawl, fail,” says Joslyn Thompson Rule, a personal trainer. “They sense embarrassment and shame, and it’s easier not to try than to try but fail. Unfortunately, it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy and leads to them not being able to do it.” Teenage experience, she says, “can affect your perception of your ability”. The things we are told as children and teenagers stay with us. I was not particularly sporty at school, although I clearly remember being praised by my PE teacher one day after a volleyball class. The idea that I am good at that one particular sport has, weirdly, become a small part of my identity – even though I have never played a game of volleyball since. Likewise, I hated cross-country running with a passion and, for years, told myself it wasn’t for me, only to discover a love of running – especially over fields and hills – more than two decades later. “Kids pick up all kinds of stuff, whether or not anybody actually labels them – they make comparisons with their peers and draw conclusions,” says Wendy Johnson, a professor of psychology at the University of Edinburgh. “There’s nothing intrinsic to say these kinds of labels have to get wired into our identities, but sometimes they do – when kids are often last to be picked for teams or laughed at for being slow or clumsy. Things can happen along the way to reverse impressions like this, but for some kids, these identities can last a lifetime.” All of this is not to bash PE teachers, although many adults who still hate exercise blame the teaching methods of decades ago. There is a lot of good practice out there, says Stuart Kay, schools director of the Youth Sport Trust. Schools are under immense pressure, and PE is suffering (according to research last year by the trust, 38% of secondary schools in England have cut the time dedicated to PE for 14- to 16-year-olds since 2012). The stereotype of the sadistic games teacher is probably largely unfair, but, says Kay, there is “room for improvement in some areas”. Historically, PE lessons were “largely about physical ability”, he argues, but for older children it is equally important for the lessons to cover social and emotional wellbeing. “If you think about some of the things that turn people off sport, they’re probably the same things that turn people off competition,” he says. Competition can be made more inclusive beyond physical ability. “We’re not trying to get rid of competition; instead, we’re saying what can you do about the rules, the environment, and how are you going to decide on a winner? By reframing competition, you can make it more inclusive, and make sure that things other than sporting prowess are celebrated.” These could include allowing everyone to play, rather than only a select few making a team, or changing the scoring so it is not only about goals or runs – the outcome of a game – but also giving scores for behaviour or skill. Johnson says she always told her children: “Exercise is good for our bodies, and everyone can find some exercise they can enjoy; it doesn’t matter if you’re particularly good at it.” As an adult, you can shift your identity around whether or not you are “sporty” by simply doing it, she says. “Pick up any issue of Runner’s World – it’s full of people who have come to running in their 40s or 50s and ended up getting into it and running marathons. I don’t mean winning, but they see the benefits not just of the exercise, but joining a club, where the focus is on the community rather than being the best.” Labels such as “sporty” have particular connotations, she says, and it is not necessarily useful to think of yourself in those terms. “Not just about exercise and health, but about fashion, values, lifestyles, athleticism and sexual identity. Physical exercise that boosts physical health and psychological wellbeing comes in many forms that aren’t sporty – dancing is exercise, as is gardening, carpentry and housework. If the goal is physical exercise for health, one doesn’t have to have a sporty identity. Think broadly about anything that involves getting yourself moving.” Overall rediscovered sport after enjoying aerobics classes. Hannah Lewin, a personal trainer, says many of her clients suffer from a lack of confidence around sport and exercise, usually instilled in them as teenagers. Instead of something to be enjoyed, sport became “a stressful experience. An early negative experience around being shamed, or being forced to do something you weren’t naturally very good at – and then belittled for not being very good at it – is something I see every day. It really does carry through into adulthood.” Adults tend to find their way to her – and exercise – once their confidence has improved. “They may have had other successes in work or relationships,” says Lewin. Overall adds: “You’re now doing this for yourself. You don’t have the pressure of teammates, and nobody is judging you. Don’t compare yourself with anybody else. Once you find the activity that is right for you, and a situation you are comfortable in, you can be surprised at what you can do.” She has had clients who have gone from sedentary lifestyles to running marathons. All the personal trainers I speak to say you should choose something you enjoy – this isn’t about compulsory rounders any more. “Gyms can be daunting places and you can feel the same as an adult as you did as a child – not being good enough, fit enough, strong enough,” says Thompson Rule. If being shouted at in a HIIT class isn’t working for you – or brings back bad memories – do something else. “If you keep forcing yourself to do something you’re really not enjoying, it’s going to become another source of stress,” says Lewin. “You’ll give up and come back to that old idea of: ‘I’m not sporty.’ That’s not the case. You just haven’t found what’s right for you.”

  • What are the symptoms of prostate cancer and how common is it?
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    The Independent

    What are the symptoms of prostate cancer and how common is it?

    Sir Rod Stewart has revealed he has been successfully treated for prostate cancer, having been diagnosed in February 2016.While appearing at a fundraising event for the Prostate Project and European Tour Foundation charity in Surrey on Saturday 14 September, the musician explained doctors diagnosed the cancer at an early stage.

  • Prince Harry and William praise Gareth Thomas after he reveals HIV diagnosis
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    The Independent

    Prince Harry and William praise Gareth Thomas after he reveals HIV diagnosis

    The Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge have praised Gareth Thomas after the former Welsh rugby captain revealed he is living with HIV.On Saturday night, Thomas shared a video on Twitter in which he spoke about living with HIV for the first time, explaining that blackmailers had threatened to reveal his diagnosis.

  • Five ways to start saving – from paying yourself first to premium bonds
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    The Guardian

    Five ways to start saving – from paying yourself first to premium bonds

    It’s a good idea to lock your money away … although perhaps go for a savings account rather than a piggy bank. Photograph: joebelanger/Getty Images/iStockphoto Pay yourself firstRather than treating savings as an afterthought, set up a standing order into a separate account as soon as you get paid, says Anna Bowes, the co-founder of Savings Champion. “That way it can become just another bill, but one that you will benefit from in the future.”Jasmine Birtles, the founder of MoneyMagpie.com, calls it paying yourself first. “Everyone says they have no money at the end of the month to put into savings,” she says. “That’s why you have to put the money into a savings account at the beginning of the month.”It doesn’t matter how much it is, says Bowes, as long as you start. Some savings accounts accept payments from just £1. Set goalsWhile most finance experts advocate saving into a pension, retirement should not be your only goal. Shorter-term goals may be more motivating. If you usually pay for your holiday by credit card and pay it back over months, consider saving for it in advance.Many banks let you set specific markers that show you how much progress you are making towards your target. When you have ticked off one goal, keep saving for the next. Use technologyBirtles recommends the “savings jars” offered by digital banks such as Monzo and Starling, which allow you to separate money from your current account, but move it back easily if you need it. Many of these banks also let you set spending limits – either overall daily maximums or for different categories of purchases – then round up your spending to the nearest £1 and squirrel away the difference.There are also apps that may help kickstart a savings habit. Chip, for example, makes automatic “microsavings” based on how much you are spending. Birtles suggests Moneybox, which lets you put small amounts into an investment Isa. There are fees, she warns, “but it’s still worth doing as it gets you into stock market investing with just 50p here and there.” Lock your money awayIf you find a savings account linked to your current account too easy to plunder, open one at a different bank and pick one without a cash card. You could even destroy the online login details if you really don’t trust yourself.Alternatively, go for an account that restricts your access. Regular savings accounts often have terms and conditions that you need to stick to. “That could discourage skipping deposits and making withdrawals,” says Bowes. Have a flutterPremium bonds may not be fashionable or hi-tech, but every bond you own has the chance of winning you up to £1m. Though you are likely to get better returns from a good savings account, you need just £25 to buy bonds, and they are a bit of a faff to cash in, which should help you resist withdrawing your cash. Plus there’s always the hope that next month could be your lucky one …

  • Stephen Collins on Larry and Dilyn – cartoon
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    The Guardian

    Stephen Collins on Larry and Dilyn – cartoon

    Stephen Collins on Larry and Dilyn – cartoon

  • Sad face: New Zealander takes clown to redundancy meeting
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    The Guardian

    Sad face: New Zealander takes clown to redundancy meeting

    Josh Thompson hired clown – who reportedly mimed crying as the paperwork was handed over – as emotional support aide. If you think emotional support animals have got out of control, prepare yourself for news of an emotional support clown. An Auckland advertising copywriter brought a clown to his redundancy meeting, as first reported in the New Zealand Herald on Friday. New Zealand legally requires employers to allow workers the option of bringing a support person to serious disciplinary meetings, usually relating to an employee’s prospective dismissal. After FCB New Zealand lost a significant client and began layoffs, Josh Thompson, who had reportedly been with the company for five months, received an ominous email from his bosses that read: “Bad news. We’re having a meeting to discuss your role.” Faced with the task of securing an appropriate support person for the potentially tense meeting, Thompson, an aspiring comedian, said: “I thought it’s best to bring in a professional, and so I paid $200 and hired a clown.” The clown, who Thompson refers to as “Joe”, crafted balloon animals throughout the meeting, including a poodle. His antics were squeaky, and Thompson’s bosses had to request he quieten down several times. “It’s further understood,” reported the Herald, “that the clown mimed crying when the redundancy paperwork was handed over.” A picture of the meeting, taken through a boardroom’s glass doors by an unknown spectator, is of compromised quality, though one can detect that Joe, the clown, is wearing a colorful hat and a yellow bib, and that Thompson, leaning back in his chair, indeed looks relaxed for someone in the process of getting laid off. Thompson told Magic Talk radio: “I mean, I did get fired, but apart from that it was all smooth running.” Fortunately, Thompson will not be out of work for long. The Australian ad agency DDB confirmed Thompson will start a new role in its office next week. As of publishing, no reports have suggested what’s next for Joe.

  • I’ve turned my hand to matchmaking
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    The Guardian

    I’ve turned my hand to matchmaking

    ‘True compatibility lies in our values, temperament and other digital dark matter – the human stuff that can’t be transmitted online.’ Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphotoBeing British Asian, the role of the “matchmaker” is perhaps more familiar to me than to others. Usually, what you hear about south Asian matched relationships is the extreme end: forced marriages, weddings between strangers, loveless pairings built on shame and subterfuge. But for plenty, the tradition is much closer to a suggestion – a kindness – and what you should do for those you love.I kicked against any type of matchmaking when I was young. Not for any grandiose reason; I simply did not trust the judgment of my relatives. I thought they had truly terrible taste (one of them remains a huge fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys) and I felt their picks were about them and their image of who I should be, rather than what I wanted.But recently I decided to matchmake my friends. I couldn’t bear listening to these two brilliant people sink into another sadness after yet another bad experience via an app. He would say it, she would say it, shell-shocked: “I thought they were one of the Good Ones.”I, too, have previously thought I could spot the Good Ones (previous “surefire” signs include: is nice to his sister; does charity at Christmas; has read a book written by a woman once). But this was nothing more than superstition, a crude way to make sense of something unfathomable: finding love in our weird modern world.And it is weird. Online matches are inspired by boredom, biases and superficial preferences. Meanwhile, true compatibility lies in our values, temperament and other digital dark matter – the human stuff that can’t be transmitted online.How did I do? There are few things as satisfying as hearing that two people you matched are happy. I imagine it was beginner’s luck, because I am no expert. The stuff of love is too elusive to be mastered.

  • World Sepsis Day: What is the condition, what are the symptoms and can it be treated?
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    The Independent

    World Sepsis Day: What is the condition, what are the symptoms and can it be treated?

    Today, World Sepsis Day is commemorated across the globe to raise awareness of the life-threatening condition.It is a rare condition which can occur when a person suffers complications from an infection.

  • I’ve spent 15 years in a job that breaks my heart
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    The Guardian

    I’ve spent 15 years in a job that breaks my heart

    My workmates don’t want to know me; my boss doesn’t value me. Should I just shut up and take what I’m given?. I spend every working day in a cubicle in a bland office. My job is fairly solitary . I have tried to organise events to make work more fun, to develop camaraderie with colleagues. They don’t appreciate it and my boss is patronising. If he had his way, I would smile, say nothing and accept what I am given. It has been 15 years now – same position, same cubicle. New people have been hired and given better titles and nicer offices. Not me. I have asked for more, and been told “no” with no real explanation. Is this all I should expect from my workplace? . When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed. . Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site. . If you would like fellow readers to respond to a dilemma of yours, send us an outline of the situation of about 150 words. For advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns. . All correspondence should reach us by Wednesday morning. Email private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms .

  • What are the symptoms of hepatitis and can it be treated?
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    The Independent

    What are the symptoms of hepatitis and can it be treated?

    On Friday 13 September, Public Health England released a report stating that up to 95,600 people in the UK could be unaware that they are infected with hepatitis C.The health body has urged individuals who are most at risk to get tested, as the virus can become fatal if left untreated.

  • In praise of window seats
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    The Guardian

    In praise of window seats

    ‘I don’t understand having the option to sit at a window and not choosing it.’ Photograph: Getty ImagesThere’s a scene in Kieślowski’s Three Colours Blue (one of the greatest films of all time) where Juliette Binoche sits in a cafe, idly pouring coffee on her ice-cream, going through real heavy shit, and looks out of the window at a man on the street playing a recorder. Personally, I wouldn’t be hugely thrilled at a man playing a recorder during a meditative moment, but it’s the sort of unexpected vignette of humanity that sitting by the window affords. I don’t understand having the option to sit at a window and not choosing it. Would you walk around with your eyes closed? Or sit in the dark? Do you watch television with it switched off?The restaurant at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center was called Windows on the World. But all windows are windows on the world. Sometimes they’re not great ones – as anyone privy to a neighbour’s dressing routine can attest – but more often than not, sitting next to a window is the inspiration of painters and writers; a crash course in anthropology; a catalyst for a change in mood or reflection on, like, life.It’s a proscenium, where the arch is a peeling sash frame, or the scratched, plastic edges of an Airbus, or the little blue curtains of a first-class carriage. The things you see. The people, animals, happenings. With urban windows, the everyday cordiality: drivers and pedestrians thanking each other with nods and semaphore. Amazing outfits. Friends joshing each other. Or the opposite: annoying lads doing wheelies in the road, endangering themselves and everyone else, half a decade before they’ll shake their heads about it all.Train window seats reveal green and gold treasures for miles. Thoughts appear from fields and tumble from skies. That doesn’t happen when you’re looking at an open-and-closing malfunctioning toilet door, or are buffeted by trolleys selling Mini Cheddars for £5. In a plane, sure, you have to disturb your seat neighbours once in a while – for a wee, to stave off DVT – but it’s worth it, for the pointillist pastel houses of foreign lands; the expanse of seas and undulating rivers never swum.The significances of window seats are well recognised. That’s why film cuts include characters staring mournfully past droplets of rain on glass, or CEOs looking out from top-floor offices, their feet on desks. It is why we’re all well versed in the Parisian flaneur, strolling the streets before sitting and observing. It’s why you can easily imagine me writing this, right now, watching the shadows on the pavement, the sun warming the glass, my chin in my hand, head turning slowly back to the screen.

  • He, she, they … should we now clarify our preferred pronouns when we say hello?
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    The Guardian

    He, she, they … should we now clarify our preferred pronouns when we say hello?

    Pronoun introductions are seen as a positive step towards a better understanding of gender – but it’s complicated. The internet is an unforgiving place. Use the wrong words, express the wrong opinion, and you can quickly find yourself “cancelled”. One of the latest victims of the internet cancellation machine is Natalie Wynn, a trans woman who has built a large following on her YouTube channel ContraPoints. Wynn is known for her smart, surreal, Wildesque video essays, which explore everything from incels to capitalism and frequently get more than a million views. Refreshingly, Wynn thinks about things rather than shouts about them; she embraces nuance. She is, to borrow a phrase the New York Times bizarrely used to describe the rightwing pundit Ben Shapiro, “the cool kid’s philosopher”. But last week, she became persona non grata. Her crime? Wynn tweeted that she wasn’t always a big fan of “pronoun introductions”: an exercise in which people go around and say their names alongside their preferred pronouns. Wynn’s issue with the practice is that even though the whole point is to foster inclusivity, it can make her feel like she doesn’t fit in. “There’s this paradox where I can go to a sports bar in North Carolina and be miss/ma’amed all night, no question,” Wynn tweeted. “But in self-consciously trans-inclusive spaces I have to explain my pronouns and watch woke people awkwardly correct themselves every time they say ‘you guys’.” Wynn added: “I guess [pronoun introductions are] good for people who use they/them only and want only gender neutral language. But it comes at the minor expense of semi-passable transes like me, and that’s super fucking hard for us.” (If you know Wynn’s work, the last words should be read with a hint of self-deprecation.) Wynn was quickly inundated by angry messages from a small number of highly vocal non-binary people who thought she was invalidating their identity. She was also accused of benefiting from “passing privilege” because she is a conventionally attractive white woman. The backlash was so bad that Wynn deleted her Twitter account. The anger doesn’t appear to have abated – this week, rumours that Wynn has been doxxed started circulating. The politicization of pronouns Little attention used to be paid to pronouns. In recent years, however, they have become a cornerstone of the culture wars. Pronoun preferences are a favourite joke among unimaginative reactionaries who use them as proof that “snowflake millennials” just want to feel special. In Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix stand-up special, for example, he jokes: “Hey, what’s going on, fellas? Lady. Whatever pronoun makes you feel comfortable in the back.” Meanwhile, pronoun introductions have become an established feature of some progressive spaces and university campuses. Many view this as a positive step towards a more nuanced understanding of gender. As Darius Hickman, a 23-year-old non-binary poet in New York says, these introductions mean people who don’t conform to traditional views of binary gender don’t feel alienated. “Relying on clocking people’s gender based on appearances is harmful, especially since some people – oftentimes non-binary folks – can happen to look strictly binary, and a simple pronoun check makes things easier for everyone, including folks whose gender isn’t easy to tell.” But when gender is so complex and personal, is there really any such thing as a “simple” pronoun check? At this stage, I should probably note that although I identify as a Progressive Lesbian™, the pressure of pronoun introductions often makes me feel uncomfortable. Actively announcing myself as a she/her makes it seem like I’m making my entire identity about my gender, which feels regressive. Further, while pronoun introductions are supposed to be about recognizing that gender is complex, it sometimes seems as though they – paradoxically – reinforce gender binaries. Announcing yourself as a “she”, “he” or “they” would appear to buy into the notion that a “he” is completely different from a “she” – and if you don’t subscribe to traditional gender roles you should identify yourself as a “they”. Wouldn’t it be better if we just worked towards a future where “he” and “she” weren’t weighted with so much meaning? What if we worked to break those limitations down instead? Perhaps. But, notes Lal Zimman, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who focusses on the linguistic practices of LGBQT speakers, we can’t escape the fact that pronouns play an important role in how we see the world. Like it or not, “we tend to take a lot of social cues from pronouns. Even hearing a pronoun in a sentence can make you picture someone very differently.” Being more mindful about them “challenges people’s ideas about how gender works in a fundamental way”. That isn’t to say that pronoun introductions are entirely without difficulty. “I think Wynn is absolutely right that people engage with that practice in ways that can be somewhat problematic,” Zimman says. Sometimes pronoun introductions only happen when a gender non-conforming person is in the room, for example. Naturally, that person can feel singled out. In Zimman’s view, you solve this problem by normalizing pronoun introduction so everyone is clear it is standard and hasn’t been rolled out specifically for them. It’s not just people feeling singled out that is potentially problematic, however; pronoun introductions can be uncomfortable for people who are still figuring out their gender identity. Rachel Levin, a professor at Pomona College, has observed this on a number of occasions among her students, inspiring her to write a piece for Inside Higher Ed last year that suggested “asking everyone their preferred personal pronoun is not a good idea”. “Undergrads are often still in the process of finding themselves,” Levin says. They’re often still a work in progress. Pronoun introductions can “force people to out themselves or lie in a room full of strangers. Let’s not make the most marginalized people in the room feel uncomfortable by posing as allies.” Levin doesn’t avoid the issue of pronouns altogether. “I usually make some statements to the class about the importance of pronouns and why I’m not asking,” she explains, “so that allyship and responsibility is signaled and nobody is made uncomfortable.” She also emails students before the class begins asking them to let her know if they have any concerns about correct pronoun usage, or if their name hasn’t been officially recorded. Is ‘they’ the answer to the pronoun problem? What about the growing popularity of the singular “they”? About one in five Americans say they personally know someone who prefers a gender-neutral pronoun like “they” rather than he/she, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in fall 2018. They has become so mainstream that, earlier this year, a New York Times op-ed columnist announced that we should all move away “from the stifling prison of gender expectations” and use “they”. This may seem like a neat way of avoiding pronoun problems, but it is reductive. Professor Grace Lavery at UC Berkley notes that “people outside the trans community tend to assume that ‘they’ is a catch-all – but it isn’t. For plenty of trans and non-binary people, ‘they’ has very concrete and distinctive meanings. I don’t think it’s a generalizable term. Additionally, for binary trans people, ‘they’ is often a place where we get stuck – people prepared to acknowledge some of our transition, but not all of it. Assuming pronouns in advance, even neutral ones, can lead to significant problems.” Zimman echoes this, explaining that a blanket use of “they” doesn’t align with the idea that people should have some agency in how they are referred to. “I like to think of someone’s pronouns in a similar way to how I’d think about their name. You can’t just look at someone and say, ‘Hey, you look like a Stephanie – that’s what I’m going to call you.’” “We manage to learn a lot of names over the course of our lives,” Zimman adds. “We learn names that are unusual or hard to pronounce. We recognize that’s just part of being a human being and having positive relationships with other humans. I’d like to see the same attitude applied to pronouns.” At this stage I should probably wrap everything up with a tidy conclusion. But I think the key message is that there are no tidy conclusions – other than the fact that we should treat each other with kindness and respect. Gender is messy and complicated and incredibly emotional. Pronouns are personal, and everybody’s relationship with them is different. Which, I think, is sort of what Wynn was trying to say before she was cancelled.