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Non-Sexist Language

Chair; Chairperson  I Generic  I  Occupations  I  Pronouns

Chair; Chairperson

Use chair or chairperson, even if you know the gender of the person involved.

Generic

Although “man” in its original sense carried the dual meaning of adult human and adult male, its meaning has come to be so closely identified with adult male that the generic use of “man” and other words with masculine markers should be replaced with non-gender specific language.

  • mankind → humanity, people, human beings
  • man’s achievements → human achievements
  • the best man for the job → the best person for the job
  • man-made → synthetic, manufactured, machine-made
  • the common man → the average person, ordinary people
  • man the stockroom → staff the stockroom
  • nine man-hours → nine staff-hours

Occupations

Avoid the use of “man” in occupational terms when persons holding the job could be either male or female.

  • chairman → chairperson, coordinator (of a committee or department), moderator (of a meeting), presiding officer, head, chair
  • businessman → business executive
  • fireman → firefighter
  • mailman → mail carrier
  • steward and stewardess → flight attendant
  • policeman and policewoman → police officer
  • congressman → congressional representative

Pronouns

Because English has no generic singular – or common-sex – pronoun, we have used “he,” “his,” and “him” in such expressions as “the student…he.” When we constantly personify “the judge,” “the critic,” “the executive,” “the author,” and so forth as male by using the pronoun he, we are subtly conditioning ourselves against the idea of a female judge, critic, executive, or author. There are several alternative approaches.

  • Recast into the plural.
    Use: Give students their papers as soon as they are finished.
    Not: Give each student his paper as soon as he is finished.
  • Reword to eliminate gender problems.
    Use: The average student is worried about grades.
    Not: The average student is worried about his grades.
  • Replace the masculine pronoun with one, you or (sparingly) he or she, as appropriate.
    Use: A student who was satisfied with his or her performance on the pretest took the post-test.
    Not: If the student was satisfied with his performance on the pretest, he took the post-test.
  • Alternate male and female examples and expressions. (Be careful not to confuse the reader.)
    Use: Let each student participate. Has she had a chance to talk? Could he feel left out?
    Not: Let each student participate. Has he had a chance to talk? Could he feel left out?