Avoiding Gender Biased Writing
A strategy for writers to overcome the gender biased writing problems and presents solutions to re-work copy that has a gender bias.
Although the world has changed drastically in the last twenty-five years, most writers have been able to comfortably update their traditional ways. Some have not. One "traditional way" some writers have had trouble parting with is the usage of male-dominated language, also known as either sexist language or gender-biased language. Don't be fooled by its sounding nature, gender-specific (gender biased) writing is used by both men and women. We have been trained all too well to call all letter carriers or mail carriers mailmen, or all chairpersons, chairmen, etc.
Gender-biasing without evidence is improper and unprofessional for any type of writing and, nowadays, unsuitable for any type of writing. Although many technical industries are saturated with male workers, as with every other gender-neutral industry, the percentage of women workers promulgates a change in language.
Here are the rules to follow for gender neutral writing:
1. Use gender-neutral terms wherever possible. Some associated terms would be:
Old Term change to New Term
man-made synthetic, artificial
fireman fire fighter
policeman police officer
to man a job to staff a job
2. Avoid gratuitous modifiers like female, male, and lady. These modifiers were used widely when women first started to enter the work force. Fifty years ago, a doctor who was female was extremely rare, thus the word Doctor was wholly masculine. When more women became doctors, they were referred to as female doctors. Nowadays, we use the term Doctor to describe both, since it has evolved into a gender-neutral word. Never, ever, use gratuitous modifiers. They are incorrect and can offend someone.
3. Avoid using he or him when referring to a person with an unknown gender. Almost everyone falls into this gender-biased usage at one time. If the sex of the person is known, then you can use him, her, he, or she. If not, consider the following solutions:
If your sentence reads When an Office Manager orders supplies, he files a requisition form, then consider the following solutions:
Making the sentence plural:
When Office Managers order supplies, they file a requisition form.
Use a passive voice:
When supplies are ordered, a requisition form should be filed.
Avoid the need for a pronoun:
When ordering supplies, an Office Manager files a requisition form.
Use a relative clause:
An Office Manager who orders supplies files a requisition form.
Use both masculine and feminine pronouns:
When an Office Manager orders supplies, he or she files a requisition form.
There are other ways to solve the gender-bias problem, but the above should suffice for all general writing projects.
As writers, both understanding your audience and gender-neutrality are key elements to the success or failure of your documents. Mastering the techniques of bypassing the gender-bias problem will unwittingly position your writing above the rest.