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.