This section covers gender-inclusive language in writing and various citation styles. Gender Inclusive language considers our assumptions about the audience and how easy to default to words ending in -man or male pronounces even for a mixed audience. In other examples, a subject goes by they/them pronouns, and writing uses the pronouns correctly in much the same way other sentences are written using grammar construction.
Two government bodies can provide a start to understanding what gender inclusive is, and the rest goes into other details, including within a citation style.
Rather than assuming someone’s pronouns, wait for someone else to share their pronouns before using those pronouns in written or oral communication. Until you know someone’s pronouns, use their name to identify them, and the singular “they” if needed. You can introduce yourself with your pronouns to encourage others to share theirs.
In written communication, this also means avoiding gendered titles such as “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, or “Ms.” until you are aware of the gender that the individual you are communicating with uses. You can instead use their first name or full name.
Also, reconsider your use of “Mrs.” and “miss” in general, as “Mrs.” has been historically used when someone is married, while “Miss” has been used when someone is unmarried. Whether someone is or isn’t married is (1) hard to determine, and (2) unnecessary information to communicate with them. Instead, using “Ms.”, which can be applied whether someone is married or unmarried, is more appropriate.
Historically, English did not have a neutral, singular, third-person pronoun. This required speakers and writers to either use a gendered pronoun like ‘she’ or ‘he’ or use an awkward phrase like “If a student is late to class, he or she will lose a mark”. In recent years, the use of the singular ‘they’ has gained wider acceptance within English. It has even been adapted into the APA Style Guide. ‘They’ is a neutral pronoun and can refer to any person regardless of their gender.
You likely use the singular ‘they’ without even realizing it. Common phrases might include, “Someone dropped their wallet on the floor”, “That child almost slipped on the ice! They need to be more careful”, or “They are a terrible driver.” In these examples, the gender of the person is either unknown or irrelevant.
When using the singular ‘they’ in a sentence, we still conjugate the verb as a plural even if referring to a singular person.
When you are writing, think critically about the details you include about someone. In many sentences, the possible gender of a person is entirely irrelevant to understanding the meaning! Consider the example: “If a student is late to class, he or she will lose a mark”.
The answer is no.
Considering the question, “Is this information relevant?” can help to uncover your own bias, to think critically about your own writing and communication, to promote inclusivity in your writing, and to help ensure you are not inadvertently “outing” a detail about someone that they do not want shared.
There are some nouns that once ended in “-man”, which now have gender inclusive equivalents. For example, rather than using “policeman/policewoman”, use police officer, which is a gender inclusive form of this noun.
Other examples include:
Can you think of any gendered nouns from your field of study?
What opportunities can you think of to reduce gendered nouns, and instead incorporate more gender-inclusive nouns?
When we greet people with the phrase “men and women”, or “boys and girls”, this reinforces a gender binary, which may not be inclusive to all individuals. This “binary” assumes everyone fits into these two categories, which is inaccurate and exclusionary. Rather than using binary-reinforcing or gendered language, like “guys”, try inclusive terms like: “people”, “folks”, or “everyone”.
Other examples include:
In written communication, language that reinforces this binary includes phrases like “When a student begins his or her program at RRC Polytech, he or she must visit a Student Centre to create a student card and pay his or her student fees.” Avoid this binary language by using the inclusive pronoun “they”, eliminating the modifier, or continuing the use of the noun “student”. For example, “When a student begins a program at RRC Polytech, they must visit a Student Centre to create a student card and pay student fees.”
Some roles have been historically held by men, and these historical tendencies are often applied inaccurately in current conversations. For example, consider how this stereotype is being perpetuated in the following situation:
Person 1: I have a dentist appointment this afternoon, so I’ll be away from the office.
Person 2: Where is his office located?There is an assumption that the dentist is a man. Rather than using the gendered possessive pronoun his, continue to use the gender inclusive term “dentist”, as in “Where is your dentist’s office located?”
There are some gender-based expressions that reinforce gender stereotypes. Discriminatory examples include:
These expressions should be completely avoided.
We tend to “gender language” by giving some nouns more stereotypically feminine or stereotypically masculine traits. For example, some words are more commonly attributed to women or men, or boys or girls.
As you write, consider if your writing reinforces any of these gender stereotypes. If so, try to remove this by describing the behaviour or person in more neutral terms. For example, rather than “She was bossy, consider “She directed her team members’ activities.”
Although some words might seem gender-inclusive, we might use modifiers selectively that reinforce a stereotype about what is the “norm” and what is outside of the “norm”.
For example, the word “couple” might be used unconsciously to imply “man and woman”. The word is then modified to “same-sex couple” to imply “woman and woman”, “man and man” or individuals who may not identify within this gender binary. In this way, the use of this modifier “same-sex” reinforces the stereotype that “couple” means “man and woman”. You can change this (1) by using a modifier regardless of the situation (as in “opposite-sex couple”) or (2) not using a modifier in any of these situations.
As another example, even when trying to be gender inclusive in our language, we may use phrases like “preferred pronouns” or “sexual preferences”; our pronouns and our sexual orientation is part of our identity and not a preference. We can demonstrate inclusivity and respect by substituting the expressions “pronouns/personal pronouns” and “sexual orientation/identity”.
Which of these strategies to foster more inclusive language can you commit to using in your communication?
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