A Guide to Gender Neutral Language

Gender neutral language is used to explain the use of gender neutral pronouns for a mixed group of people or any unknown person. For example, when discussing a lawyer the author might write THEY walked into court though the actual gender or sex of the person isn’t known instead of assuming the person is a male or female. The use of these words replaced the old system of using masculine pronouns such as 'he' or 'him' to refer to individuals. This idea shows the patriarchal system wherein the male gender is the dominate one. The increased use of gender neutral language has helped to alter the way people talk about others.

Resources on the topic include:

Mankind


The word man was once used to describe any person regardless of their gender. It referred to the entire human population, male and female alike. There are stories written dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries where women were actually referred to as men or by the word man. In England, wifman was the word referring to women of a certain age and over time this word became woman. It’s interesting to note that it took centuries for the word 'woman' to evolve.

The words 'man' and 'men' are still used to refer to all people though. Thomas Jefferson used the word men in the Declaration of Independence to refer to all humans by stating that “all men are created equal”. The lack of the word 'women' led to years of debate over whether the document included women. Edmund Burke also used the word 'men' to explain the thoughts of all people during the French Revolution.

Masculine Pronouns

The idea of grammar first came about in the 16th century. As boys were primarily learning how to read and write, it was expected that he appeared as the main pronoun. Very few females were learning the same things during this time. When females began reading and writing, Parliament passed an act that stated the word he would refer to all people.


Solving the Problem
The most common way of solving the issue of pronouns is assigning the words 'they' or 'them' to a person instead of using 'he' or 'she.' Using double pronoun constructions are also popular such as saying 'he or she' instead of using just one gendered pronoun. Another way of solving the problem involves pluralizing the noun. Others completely remove the pronouns from the sentence.

Gender Neutral Language in the Real World
In reality, some major publications have prohibited the use of gender inclusive language. The Associated Press and the American Psychological Association both banned the use of this language. Newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times both try to avoid using them except in their personals. Academic journals as well avoid printing articles that use gendered language.

There are alternatives to gender neutral language. There are ways of eliminating the word 'man' in the hopes of reducing gender bias. 'Businessman' for example becomes 'business executive' and 'mailman' becomes 'mail carrier.' Using the term 'synthetic' instead of 'man-made' is another example. While the world continues to change, it’s unclear what will happen to gender neutral language.

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