Sexism in Writing
Happy International Women’s Day!
Early on in my writing journey I’d use more sexist language inadvertently. Maybe I’ll refer to the reader as a “he” or use words like mankind, chairman, etc.
Then I read the classic book, On Writing Well, and there was one section that resonated with me on sexism. In particular, the author wrote:
In early editions of On Writing Well I used “he” and “him” to refer to “the reader,” “the writer,” “the critic,” “the humorist,” etc. I felt that the book would be harder to read if I used “he or she” with every such mention. (I reject “he/she” altogether; the slant has no place in good English.) Over the years, however, many women wrote to nudge me about this. They said that as writers and readers themselves they resent always having to visualize a man doing the writing and reading, and they’re right; I stand nudged.
Even as a minority male, whenever I read a book I’d default to visualizing a white male if race is not explicitly mentioned. I’d imagine it’d bring even more cognitive dissonance to women if they always defaulted to visualizing a man when reading. Since then, I made the habit of using gender neutral language as much as possible.
The author gives a general tip for removing sexism from one’s writing:
The best solutions simply eliminate “he” and its connotations of male ownership by using other pronouns or by altering some other component of the sentence. “We” is a handy replacement for “he.” “Our” and “the” can often replace “his.” (A) “First he notices what’s happening to his kids and he blames it on his neighborhood.” (B) “First we notice what’s happening to our kids and we blame it on the neighborhood.” General nouns can replace specific nouns. (A) “Doctors often neglect their wives and children.” (B) “Doctors often neglect their families.” Countless sins can be erased by such small changes.