Terms - and alternatives
This list of
sexist terms shows not only what may be avoided but also how they may
If in the company
of people who are made uncomfortable by sexist terms, there is a polite
and linguistically acceptable alternative in most cases. The often quoted
"person aperture cover" for "man hole" is both a hoax
and a parody of the intention of the language. The following are becoming
increasingly accepted and mostly are no longer an issue of contention.
checklist of alternatives to sexist language was produced by a publisher
giving advice to authors.
1. Do you agree with the premise that the "words to be avoided"
are in fact sexist?
2. Do you agree that the "words to be preferred" are
3. Explain your decisions and suggest better alternatives where
human beings, human race, people, humans
achievements, our achievements
a man drove 50 miles at 60 mph ...
a person / driver drove 50 miles at 60 mph ...
best man for the job
best person or candidate for the job
synthetic, manufactured, constructed, of human origin, processed (ie a natural material transformed by human intervention)
workforce, staff, labour, staffing, human resources
humankind, men and women, women and men, individuals, human beings,
person, the individual
the desk, be at the desk
market planning, workforce planning, staff planning, workload planning
chair, convener (don't use non-parallel terms such as 'chairman' for
men and 'chairperson' or 'person chairing' for women)
officer, fire fighter
If the gender
of the person being discussed is unknown or could be either female or male, there
are several alternatives. One is to use 'She or he should show his/her
tickets', or even "S/he should show ..." (only common on forms
and questionnaires). Another is to use the plural "Customers should
show their tickets" or to use the second person pronoun instead -
"Please show your ticket." Use of the passive is an alternative
though it may lead to less clarity - "Tickets should be shown."
The Female Leader
In March 2012 Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman [sic] of the Royal College of General Practitioners, spoke out against male NHS executives for their use of sexist language and of portraying her approach to negotiations as "emotional" and "naive" because she was a woman.
Gerada said that if she had been a male leader she would have been referred to as "strong willed" or "open minded" but instead was described as "naive."
In an interview with the Sunday Times (accompanied by a rather unsympathetic and harshly lit portrait of her) she said, "... the language used is slightly pejorative. So I have been, for example, "passionate" and "naive" or "emotional". I have never heard a man called "emotional" or "naive". I would not use these words in a professional context."
Can we be neutral?
Many attempts have been made to devise new and neutral pronouns,
though none has become common. S/he is possibly the nearest to popularity. Consider rephrasing to use plural pronouns which are non sex specific ("they" instead of "he" and "she").
The idea behind Spivak gender is to replace our current set of gendered
pronouns with a genderless set. This provides a degree of vagueness about
identity and sexual orientation conducive to more adventurous e-mail postings.
A proposed set
of "Spivak gender" pronouns includes "e, em, eir, eirs,
eirself, sie." In Spivak-speak, "She talks to herself,' would
become "Sie talks to eirself," "sie" being a substitute
for both "he" and "she."
Generally useful advice
- Do not assume
that the male should always come first, so alternate she and he, hers
and his, wives and husbands.
- Neutral 'spouse'
or 'partner' may be preferable in some cases to 'husband' or 'wife', and 'partner' may be the only suitable term for same-sex couples or for unmarried couples for whom "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" has been outgrown.
- Neutral 'sibling' may be preferable in some cases to sister
- Aim to use equivalent terms for both genders: boy/girl ; man/woman; lady/gentleman.
see also women's