Word Nerd: How to avoid sexism in your writing

24 Mar

Have you ever been addressed as a man if you’re a woman or vice versa? And this was not because of your voice or appearance but simply because the other person could not be bothered to research or just felt free to assume?
On the other hand, have you ever made the same mistake?

BrainGain Magazine
Image credit: www.twitter.com/BathMagg

Well, it’s the last week of Women’s History Month, so we are setting the house in order by sharing these five tips that can help you avoid the same mistakes. Not only that, but they might also improve your chances of connecting with your reader(s). So, whether you’re submitting an application, an essay, or an article, read and remember these pointers. You’ll thank us for them!

1. Don’t assume male subjects

Whether it’s a professor, an editor, or a prospective manager, it’s useful to not assume that your addressee is a male. You would be surprised to learn just how many times that happens. If you are writing about professions traditionally associated with masculinity like the postal services, police, or even firefighting, avoid using the suffix ‘-man’ (fireman, policeman, or mailman). Instead, you could use neutral suffixes that are more inclusive (police officer, mail carrier, and firefighter).

2. Write in plural

If you write in the singular, you might have to use some archaic gendering. For example, ‘A student who spreads himself too thin can not win.’ You might seek to correct that by forcing a feminine gender there – ‘A student who spreads herself too thin…’ The way out of this quandary is to pluralize.
‘Students who spread themselves too thin…’

Your language can stay correct: both grammatically and politically.

3. Use pronouns cautiously

It might come to you as a surprise but gender-neutral pronouns are in circulation.  These include ey, ve, and te. However, these are yet to be recognized in the academic community. It’s unlikely that the wider public has caught on to them either. So, there are two steps to take: one, make sure you check people’s preferences before you use pronouns to identify them; two, understand how to deploy them (for example if your readers will understand, or if you have viable options).

You can always consult your academic advisor for more clarity on the right terms.

4. Be exact

In writing, it helps to know your target reader. So, if you are writing for husbands helping their wives during pregnancies, you should gender your writing accordingly. It is completely different if you are writing about a topic like ‘toxic masculinity and the role of peers’ for men. If it suits your purpose to address one gender, do it confidently.

5. Research

If you are sending out an application or a query, it helps to take a few minutes to research the person to whom you are sending it. Find out the names. And when even names leave you clueless about gender – refrain from assuming and refer to the first pointer here!

Any tips you would like to share with us? Please let us know!


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