Inclusive language: Gender
If you want to write inclusive content, it is important to consider how we write about people of various genders since certain gendered words could alienate potential audience members.
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How to use inclusive language related to gender
Sometimes, in your writing, you may need to generalize and talk about people as a whole. Although it’s not very common anymore, it’s good to know that it’s more inclusive if you avoid using the pronoun he to refer to people in general since that can be viewed as male bias. To avoid this, it is recommended to use the singular they, which has a long history of usage in English.
Example in a sentence:
- Non-inclusive: When someone goes to a restaurant, he should tip his waiter.
- Inclusive: When someone goes to a restaurant, they should tip their waiter.
There are many other instances where you’ll find male bias in everyday language. For example:
- Non-inclusive: firemen, mankind, manmade, and man-hours, to each his own. These words all imply, even if unintentionally, a male or masculine image of the word or context. Because masculine generics largely invoke images of men, using that kind of lаnguge can be perceived as excluding towards women.
- Inclusive: firefighters, humanity, artificial/synthetic, person-hours, to each their own.
Gender and sex
Biological, psychological, and sociological factors can be important aspects of someone’s gender. Sex, on the other hand, often refers to someone’s presumed or perceived assigned sex at birth. Neither gender nor sex is inherently binary. There are more genders than men and women, such as non-binary, genderfluid, and agender people.
Because gender and sex are not binary, it is more inclusive to try and reduce the usage of binary terms in writing. Consider these examples:
- Non-inclusive: males and females or men and women may be exclusionary to people of other genders or sexes.
- Non-inclusive: both sexes/genders or opposite sex/gender imply binaries that could alienate people from your content.
- Non-inclusive: she/he, he or she, or s/he, him/her are frequently exclusive towards people of various genders.
- Inclusive: Consider using the singular they instead of all the non-inclusive variations mentioned above.
Examples used in a sentence:
- Non-inclusive: Both men and women should tip their waiter at the restaurant.
- Inclusive: People should tip their waiter at the restaurant.
- Non-inclusive: When someone goes to a restaurant, he or she should tip the waiter.
- Inclusive: When someone goes to a restaurant, they should tip the waiter.
Transgender and non-binary people
Transgender people are individuals who were assigned one gender at birth (frequently “male” or “female”) and now identify as another gender. Consider these examples of (im)proper use of the word:
- Non-inclusive: a transgender or transgenders (these are nouns and the word transgender is an adjective).
- Inclusive: transgender woman, transgender individual, trans man, trans person.
Non-binary people are those whose gender is between or outside of the gender binary (e.g., not strictly male nor female, man nor woman, masculine nor feminine). Sometimes, but not always, non-binary people consider themselves to fall under the transgender umbrella. It is important to respect people of all genders by writing about them with the correct terminology and correct pronouns. Some terms are derogatory (e.g., shemale or a he-she), while others may be okay if the person you are referring to specifically uses that phrase (e.g., “female-to-male” or “male-to-female”). A comprehensive collection of terms and phrases with explanations is available at The Trans Language Primer.
Want to learn more about gender and inclusive language? Here are some useful resources:
- Welcome, singular “they” (apa.org)
- Male generic language impacts representation – Parlia
- The Intersex Spectrum | NOVA | PBS
- What are Gender Pronouns? Why Do They Matter? | Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (nih.gov)
- Transgender and Non-Binary People FAQ – HRC
- The Trans Language Primer