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Using Non-Sexist Language

When writing, it is a courtesy to your readers to use language that does not demean or stereotype men or women. Often, we are not aware that we are using sexist language because many of these expressions are traditionally used in writing, such as generic he or his.

Example

A doctor cares for his patient.

In this sentence, his is used as a generic form because it is intended to refer to any doctor, male or female. However, it implies that doctors are male, and therefore it excludes females.

Below is some information which presents non-sexist alternatives for sexist language. Try them in your writing!

Solving the problem of sexist language is not simply substituting one word for another. Sometimes you have to rewrite the entire sentence as in the following examples.

Alternatives for using “he.”

Use a plural form. This is often the simplest solution.

Male emphasis:

If a student wants a good grade, he must study for several hours per day.

Revised:

If students want good grades, they must study for several hours per day.

Eliminate the male pronoun altogether. This is usually the best choice.

Male emphasis:

If a student has a question concerning his grade, he should consult with his teacher.

Revised:

A student who has a question concerning a grade should consult with the teacher.

Suggested Alternatives

Generic “man”

At one time, “man” referred to both men and women; however, it is now associated primarily with adult males. Here are some alternatives for the generic use of man.

Man Alternative
Man (noun) Person, individual
To man (verb) To operate, to staff
He (generic pronoun) He/She
They
His (generic pronoun) His/Her
Their
Man-made Synthetic
Mankind People, humans

Job Titles

Some job titles suggest only men may hold such positions. Here are some alternatives:

Man Alternative
Chairman Chairperson
Chair
Foreman Supervisor
Mailman Mail carrier
Postal worker
Fireman Fire fighter
Policeman Police officer
Businessman Business executive
Business person
Congressman

Member of Congress
Representative
Legislator

The information on this page was adapted from:
Hacker, D. (1998).
A Writer's Reference 4th edition. Bedford/St. Martin's.

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