Avoid gender biased nous and pronouns

Biased language can cause your reader to focus on how you say something rather than what you say. If your language is free of bias, it should offend no one; ideally, no one should even notice that you have made an effort to reduce sexually biased words and phrases.

Jameson, Daphne A. “Reducing Sexually Biased Language in Business Communication,” in Readings in Business Communication. [Ed] Robert D. Gieselman. Champaign IL, Stipes, 1979, 170-178.

Achieving unbiased language so that readers will concentrate on what you have to say rather than how you say it is an admirable goal. It’s also a necessity. For example, businesses and individuals have been sued because job descriptions used “he” and seemed to exclude women — whether or not the exclusion was intended. Therefore, gender sensitive language is a requirement of the workplace and the university.

It may be easy to avoid gender biased nouns by replacing sexist nouns with more neutral ones: chairman with chairmailman with paper carrier, andcongressman with senator or representative. But how can you avoid the pronouns hehim and his or sheher and hers when you refer to nouns meant to include both genders?

The following five options will enable you to revise your writing so that your use of pronouns is both gender sensitive and correct. As you review this list, compare the biased language of the original sentences with the gender sensitive phrasing of the revisions.

1. Use the plural form for both nouns and pronouns.

Biased Language
Studying the techniques by which a celebrated writer achieved his success can stimulate any writer faced with similar problems.

Gender Sensitive Language
Studying the techniques by which celebrated writers achieved theirsuccess can stimulate any writer faced with similar problems.

2. Omit the pronoun altogether.

Biased Language
Each doctor should send one of his nurses to the workshop.

Gender Sensitive Language
Each doctor should send one nurse to the workshop.

3. Use his or her, he/she or s/he when you occasionally need to stress the action of an individual. Such references won’t be awkward unless used frequently.

Biased Language
If you must use a technical term he may not understand, explain it.

Gender Sensitive Language
If you must use a technical term he or she may not understand, explain it.

4. Vary pronoun choice when you want to give examples emphasizing the action of an individual. Ideally, choose pronouns that work counter to prevailing stereotypes.

Biased Language
Gradually, a child will see the resemblance between block creations and objects in his world, and he will begin to name some structures, like “house” and “door”.

Gender Sensitive Language
Gradually, a child will see the resemblance between block creations and objects in her world, and she will begin to name some structures, like “house” and “door”.

Biased Language
The kitchen can serve as a center for new experiences, an interesting place where important things happen, and where she has a chance to learn about the way adult things are done.

Gender Sensitive Language
The kitchen can serve as a center for new experiences, an interesting place where important things happen, and where he has a chance to learn about the way adult things are done.

5. Switch from the third person (he) to the second person (you) or a “you understood” when this shift is appropriate for what you are writing.

Biased Language
Each manager should report his progress to the supervisor by May 1.

Gender Sensitive Language
You should report your progress to the supervisor by May 1.

Managers should report their progress to the supervisor by May 1.

Copyright Acknowledgment

Copyright The Write Place 1995.

The previous section was written by Sharon Cogdill and Judith Kilborn for The Write Place, St. Cloud State University, adapted by Terry Clayton, Asian Institute of Technology, December, 1995, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.


Gender and objectivity

In a misguided attempt to sound more scientific or objective, some writers use the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ when referring to people.

Example

In the village, 61% of the males had primary education while only 39% of the females had primary education, respectively.

Using the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ to talk about fellow human beings sounds cold, distant and arrogantly superior.

Use ‘male’ and ‘female’ for plants, animals, insects and fish. Use ‘man’ or ‘men’ and ‘woman’ or ‘women’ for people.

Also note, the plural of ‘person’ is ‘people’ as in ‘one person’ or ‘two people’.