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Gender-Sensitive Language



Many of us were taught to use masculine nouns and pronouns if the gender of the persons was unclear or if the group about which we were writing contained members of both sexes. Consequently, we understood that the statement, " men are created equal," referred not merely to men, but to men and women equally.

Similarly, the chairman of a committee could be male or female despite the use of chairman. Milkman, breadman, iceman, deliveryman, and postman were commonly accepted terms, although it was possible (but unlikely) that a woman performed the work. Similarly, the newspaper was delivered by a paperboy, although the carrier might have been a girl or an adult.

Today, women are involved in the nearly all phases of American life. No longer do most readers consider "man" to be synonymous with "people." Consequently, we have had to reconsider how we express gender identities and relationships. There are no firm rules to provide guidance. However, there is a set of alternate word choices used by gender-sensitive writers to express gender relationships. Here are some of them:

If you are writing about a sex-neutral, third-person, singular noun, such as manager, someone, or aviator, the masculine pronoun, he, is not suitable. Instead, if the pronoun is needed, use she or he, s/he, or she/he. If the plural form is needed, use they.

Similarly, a gendered noun, such as man, policeman, or congressman, can pose a stumbling block for the writer. Alternate words for a few of the problem words follow:

  • For chairman - use chair, chairperson

  • For common man - use average person or ordinary person

  • For congressman - use congress person, representative, or legislator

  • For Dear Sir - use Dear Sir or Madam, Dear Manager, or Dear Customer Service Representative

  • For freshman - use first-year student

  • For mailman - use mail carrier or letter carrier

  • For man - use person or individual

  • For man-made - use synthetic or machine-made

  • For policeman - use police officer

  • For steward or stewardess - use flight attendant


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