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The Use Of Gender-Neutral Language In Your Writing

Every language has its own rules for handling gendered terms and male or female pronouns (for example, Spanish nouns and articles are either masculine or feminine). In the English language, we must choose gender-neutral and nonsexist language whenever possible. Using Sensitive Language is key.

But how can we substitute non-gendered terms for gendered ones? How do we know if a phrase is sexist? How can we avoid issues of sexism and gender in our writing? And of course, how can we rewrite a sentence without using he or she?

How To Use Gender-free Terms When Writing Or Speaking:

1. To avoid saying he or she (or his or her), use the plural form for both nouns and pronouns.
Avoid: An effective teacher uses various strategies in his classroom.
Use: Effective teachers use various strategies in their classrooms. 2. Omit the pronoun.
Avoid: Each teacher will send one of his students to the assembly.
Use: Each teacher will send a student to the assembly.

3. Use his or her, he or she, or s/he when it is necessary to stress the action of an individual. This will be awkward if used too often. (Vary pronoun choice when possible.)
Avoid: If the student is unhappy with his grade, he will discuss it with the instructor.
Use: If the student is unhappy with the grade, he or she will discuss it with the instructor.

4. Change the third-person (she) to the second-person (you) or (you understood) when this change is appropriate for what you are writing.
Avoid: Each teacher should send in his grades by June 15.
Use: All grades must be sent in by June 15.

5. Use alternatives to language that trivializes or reinforces stereotypes.
Avoid: My girl will take the message.
Use: I will ask my assistant to take that message.

6. Treat men and women the same way when addressing them or alluding to them.
Avoid: Senator Chuck Schumer and Mrs. Bill Clinton attended the hearing.
Use: Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton attended the hearing.

If you don’t know the gender of the person you’re writing to, check out this article: Savvy Salutations: How To Write “Dear Someone” In A Query Letter.

List Of Terms In Sexist Language And Alternative Word Choices
It is important to avoid exclusionary forms. The following words can be easily substituted with other words or expressions:

mankind: humanity or people
man the deck: staff the deck
chairman: chair
congressman: congresswoman
mailman: mail carrier
actress: actor
ladies: women
girls: women
stewardess: flight attendant
Miss or Mrs.: Ms.

To read more about sexist and gendered language, please feel free to check out  How To Properly Use The Terms “Ladies” And “Gentlemen” In Your Writing.

7 Responses to The Use Of Gender-Neutral Language In Your Writing

  1. Some individuals do have neutral genders, increasingly so. And everyone in our society is sexist, because our culture is at it’s core. We all need to become aware.

  2. I too found this very useful . Avoiding repetition in your writing is the best point. When writing instructional books I agree that it would be offensive to be sexist and therefore there is agreement that sexism is important to avoid at times. In creating characters for novels or expressing culture in poetry it would be wrong to even think of sexism as an issue and I would not want to dull my character or desired image with a worry about political correctness.

  3. Very useful tips, and Tim I dont really see the problem. This is just tips on how to write gender neutral if that’s needed, which sometimes it is.

  4. Personally I think all this is just a bit ridiculous, when reading rather I’d prefer the incorrect singular “they” or those writers who at the start of the book just say they’re using he or she consistently for either gender. All this political correctness is just ridiculous.

    Personally I just use “she” and call me sexist but to this day I’ve never had a male come to me and complain, neither have I heard a case of it happening. The argument will go that that undermines the entire point of gender neutrality but I know I’m not sexist it just so happens that the English language isn’t well suited to the gender neutral individual because individuals don’t have neutral genders.

  5. Quite thorough! I remember this from the ’70s and now finally this idea is actually getting more play. Maybe someday we won’t have to even think about it.

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