The Reverse Murray Rule

In the notes to his Real Education, Charles Murray proposes a convention for third-person singular pronouns where the sex of the referent is unknown or irrelevant—

As always, I adhere to the Murray Rule for dealing with third-person singular pronouns, which prescribes using the gender of the author or principal author as the default, and I hope in vain that others will adopt it.

The Murray Rule is a fine illustration of the use of conventions to break the symmetry between arbitrary choices: instead of having to flip a coin every time you want to talk about a hypothetical human in the third person, you pick a convention once, and let the convention pick the pronouns—and furthermore, Murray is proposing, you can use the sex of the author as an "input" to achieve determinism without the traditional sexism of the universal generic masculine or its distaff counterpart favored by some modern academics.

But even this still leaves us with one information-theoretic bit of freedom—one binary choice not yet determined, between the Murray Rule (female authors use the generic feminine; male authors use generic masculine) and the Reverse Murray Rule (female authors use generic masculine; male authors use generic feminine).

I'll concede that the Murray Rule is a more natural Schelling point on account of grouping "like with like": the generic hypothetical person's gender matching the author's seems to require less of a particular rationale than the other way around. But I much prefer the Reverse Murray Rule on æsthetic grounds. The implicit assumption that authors regard their own sex the normal, default case feels ... chauvinistic. And kind of gay. Women and men were made for each other. It is wrong to regard the opposite sex as some irrelevant alien, rather than an alternate self. That's why I tend to reach for the generic feminine when I'm being formal enough to eschew singular they, and the real reason I write "women and men" in that order. I like to imagine my hypothetical female analogue doing the opposite—or rather, doing the same thing—using male-first orderings and the generic masculine on the same verbalized rationale and analogous motivations in her own history ... even though she doesn't, can't exist.

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