Garblog's Pages

Friday, November 16, 2012

Our language updated: 'He' doesn't mean 'she'--and other narrow-minded terms

Well, election 2012 is finally behind us. And with it, I wish, conservative politicians and their supporters have learned lessons about their narrow-minded, arrogant attitudes toward women.

One thing we've seen all too much this past election year is the disturbing language used to describe issues of importance to women (and men, too!). So, on that note, here are excerpts from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual on sex, sexism, and related topics, including sexual orientation.

sex, sexism Base communication on relevant qualities of men and women, not on their sex or sexual orientation. See below: gay, lesbian; gender.

Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. Include all people in general references by substituting unbiased, asexual words and phrases: informal agreement for gentlemen's agreementhomemaker for housewifeemployees and their spouses for employees and their wives.

Here are other examples: hours worked, staff hours or working hours for man-hours; people, men and women, human beings, the human race, civilization or humanity for mankind; physical strength, resources, human effort, staff, workers or work force for manpower; artificial, synthetic, manufactured or handmade for manmade; and large, big, generous or formidable for man-sized. Also, think about using sewer access, pipeline opening, utility maintenance hole or utility access hole for manhole. See man below.

Avoid using man or woman as a suffix or prefix in job titles: Substitute business executive, business leader or businessperson for businessman; worker, laborer or employee for workman; camera operator, videographer or cinematographer for cameraman; firefighter for fireman; letter carrier, mail carrier or postal worker for mailman; and sales representative, agent or clerk for salesman. Use generic titles or descriptions for both men and women. 

Avoid writing about woman managers, male secretaries, men's work, women's interests such as recipe swapping, sewing and fashion. See chairman, chairperson, chairwoman below.

Reword sentences to drop unnecessary gender pronouns, especially the outdated generic he and his but also she and her. Here are some alternatives:

  • Try dropping use of any pronoun.
  • Substitute the articles a or the for the pronoun where suitable.
  • Use the plural pronouns they and their with plural nouns: Workers ... they. Not The worker ... he. Using plural pronouns with singular nouns is not, yet, widely accepted: The worker ... they. See their, them, their below.
  • Use he or she and his or hers--but don't overdo it. Alternate between using those phrases and other alternatives. See below: he or she, he/shehis, his/her.
  • Repeat the original noun or use synonyms for second references to nouns like the worker or workers. But don't overdo that either. Make sure it's clear to readers the synonyms refer to the same person or people.
  • Alternate male and female expressions and examples. 

Refer to women and men equally and consistently: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Emily Johnson won the awards. Not: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Mrs. Gus Johnson won the awards. See Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms. below.

Use parallel language when mentioning people by gender: Substitute husband and wife for man and wife, ladies and gentlemen for ladies and men (or gentlemen and ladies, for variety). Neither men nor women over the age of 18 are boys or girls. Usually, use woman and man as the noun and female and male as the adjective. See female, male below.

Give equal respect to women and men. Do not describe men by mental qualities or professional position and, simultaneously, describe women by physical features. Only refer to appearance, charm, intuition or physical strength when relevant.

chair, chairman, chairperson, chairwoman Use chair as the title for the heads of councils and committees, unless the person in the position prefers chairman, chairwoman or chairperson. Capitalize as a formal title before a name. Do not capitalize as a casual, temporary position.
female, male Best used as adjectives, if necessary to refer to the sex of a person or occupational title. For nouns, use woman, man, girl and boy instead. Female and male are OK as nouns when writing about animals, when it's not known if a person is an adult or a child, and when writing about a group that includes both adults and children.
gay, lesbian Identify a person's sexual orientation only when it is relevant. Do not refer to "sexual preference" or to a gay, homosexual or alternative "lifestyle." Use gay (n. and adj.) to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Avoid using homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity. 

Instead of referring to lesbians and gays, consider using gay women and men or lesbians and gay men. Lowercase gay and lesbian except in names of organizations. Don't refer to gays with disparaging, offensive terms. Use gay and queer carefully in other contexts. Do not use gay as offensive, incorrect adolescent slang meaning "stupid." 
gender Gender has become an acceptable term for writing about differences between males and females, especially their social, psychological and cultural traits--or who we are. Sex is more often used when writing about physical and biological traits--or what we do. Stay tuned. 

gentleman A man is a man. When there's more than one man, they are men. Save gentleman and gentlemen for noting a man or men who are especially polite or gracious. See lady below.

he or she, he/she In avoiding the outdated use of the generic hehe or she is much preferred over he/she, as are his or hers over his/hers and him or her over him/her. Of course, the pronoun order can be reversed: she or he, hers or his, her or him. To avoid overuse of he or she and its other forms, use a plural construction: All participants must supply their own tools instead of Each participant must supply his or her own tools. See his, his/her below.

her Do not use this pronoun to refer to nations or ships, except in quotations. Use it instead. 
his, her, his/her Avoid using the singular pronouns his or her in generic references. Also avoid the awkward construction his/her. Instead, rewrite the sentence. Changing singular pronouns to plural pronouns often works well. Change: A chef should taste his/her creations before serving them. To: Chefs should taste their creations before serving them.
lady Don't use this word as a synonym for woman or when it would sound outdated or patronizing. Reserve for writing about nobility. 
man, manned, manning Do not use man as a verb. Use staff instead or forms of use, operate, worked or run. Change: Three employees man the office. To: Three employees staff the officeThree employees run the office. See staff below.
manpower Outdated word. Use workers, labor, staff, staffing, physical strength, human effort or work force instead. 
Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms. In texts, do not use the courtesy titles Miss, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Instead, use the first and last names of the person. On second reference, use only the last name. Courtesy titles may be used in business correspondence. Plural forms of these titles: Misses, Messrs., Mmes., Mses. 
staff Collective noun, it takes singular verbs: The staff is working on the project. Staff members may be used, if needed: Staff members are working on the project. 

their, them, they The day may come--and should--when these plural pronouns are accepted as singular pronouns that don't note a person's sex. Some respected writing authorities now suggest this change in language as we eliminate the outdated use of he, him and his as references to both men and women. This updated usage would be similar to use of the pronouns you and your for both one person and more than person, taking a plural verb even when mentioning one person.

Still, for now, consider the potential reaction of your audience--and the reaction you would prefer as the writer or editor--before applying this use. Meanwhile, try other acceptable uses, especially using the plural pronouns to refer to plural nouns. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...