The Sunday Times yesterday claimed that Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) had released a leaflet that “told” students to use ‘ze’ as a gender neutral pronoun in place of ‘he’ and ‘she’, however OUSU deny that any such leaflet was ever released.
OUSU assert that they would never insist on students using the term and that their policy has only ever been to encourage students to declare their chosen pronoun when they speak at OUSU meetings.
In a statement, OUSU said, “As far as we’re aware, the information which has been published is incorrect. We have not produced a leaflet implying that all students must use ‘ze’ pronouns to refer to others, or indeed to themselves.
“We would also like to clearly state that we would never tell anyone to use ‘ze’ pronouns instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ if ‘he’ or ‘she’ is the pronoun someone wishes to use. That would be misgendering and would likely have the biggest impact on individuals (ie, some trans students) who may already be struggling to get people to use ‘he’ or ‘she’ for them. It would be totally counterproductive.”
Sunday Times Education Editor Sian Griffiths told Cherwell that the main source was an OUSU policy document published in June of 2016, which merely states that in OUSU meetings one should identify one’s preferred pronoun. The document makes no reference to ‘ze’ at any point.
The story was soon picked up by range of national and international media organisations including The Daily Mail, Russia Today, The Huffington Post, and The Times of India, who themselves provided no sources for the story.
The articles provoked a storm of angry comments bemoaning “special snowflake” students and “PC gone mad”.
One commentator on The Times article wrote of OUSU, “They are a bunch of teenage lefties whom no-one has ever taken seriously, and that they should be given such publicity for their usual infantilism is bizarre.”
Another on the MailOnline declared, “The lunatics are taking over the asylum.”
This follows weeks of debate about the rise of so called ‘fake news’, stories that are either exaggerated or totally made up in order to attract greater clicks and a corresponding increase in advertising revenue.
Media commentators have expressed their worry that fake news will play into the prejudices of those on both sides of the political spectrum, contributing to polarisation and damaging rational dialogue.
The Sunday Times has been contacted for comment, as well as The Daily Mail, Russia Today, The Huffington Post, and The Times of India.