Posted by: episystechpubs | May 1, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Hey, girl!

I was indulging in a guilty pleasure on my way to work—listening to the ‘80s station on XM radio. The now 60-year-old MTV “VJ” Mark Goodman was talking about the Eurythmics and how Annie Lennox (also nearly 60 years old) wrote a riveting article about Margaret Thatcher tearing England apart. “She’s a smart girl,” he said. I nearly veered off the road after hearing that condescension. Under what circumstances would he think it was okay to say “Yeah, that Stephen Hawking is a smart boy”?

So, I don’t have tips on avoiding condescending and judgmental language, but I do have an article about avoiding gender bias in writing. No matter which way you bend, this is good information for business. We will start with the first two items from the article: “Ten Ways to Avoid Gender Bias”

How do you write around the outmoded usage of the pronoun he or him when a male is not necessarily the subject of the reference? Here are ten strategies—none ideal in every circumstance—for achieving gender neutrality.

1. Use He or She

Before: “Ask the student whether he is prepared to give a presentation.”
After: “Ask the student whether he or she is prepared to give a presentation.”

This solution is stiffly formal and is awkward in repetition; use sparingly. [KC – This is preferred to many options, though.]

Using he/she, s/he, or any such alternative (or an invented neutral pronoun like ze) is not advised. [KC – And is punishable by public flogging.]

2. Alternate Between He and She

Before: “Ask the student whether he is prepared to give a presentation. If he is ready, tell him that he may begin when he is ready.”
After: “Ask the student whether he is prepared to give a presentation. If she is ready, tell her that she may begin when she is ready.”

This solution works only in the case of two or more references to a hypothetical subject of either gender. In the proximity of the references in the examples, this solution is awkward, but when the references are at some distance from each other, it can be effective in moderation. [KC – This is
very unclear. Stay tuned for better options tomorrow.]

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