Genderinclusive Language

Although sexist writing is not as common as it used to be, we still see too much of it in scientific texts. The problem arises because English has no singular pronoun that includes both males and females. Consequently, certain groups of people, such as patients, teachers, or medical professionals, are sometimes described as being exclusively male or female, as shown in the examples below:

^ Sexist writing: The general practitioner should refer his patient to a specialist if he deems this necessary.

Sexist writing: A study nurse will determine your blood pressure before and after the infusion. She will inform the study director of any abnormalities.

Clearly, a general practitioner may well be a woman, and the study nurse could just as well be a man. In the first sentence, sexist writing can be avoided if we use the plural:

^ Gender-neutral: General practitioners should refer their patients to a specialist if deemed necessary.

In the second sentence, the plural ("they") would not be appropriate since a single nurse is responsible for blood-pressure determinations. Here, we can be gender-neutral only by using the unpopular "he/she" construction. Although many books on scientific writing advise against the use of "he/she" in scientific texts, we cannot do without it completely. However, it is undoubtedly good advice to use this and other slash combinations as sparingly as possible.

^ Gender-neutral: A study nurse will determine your blood pressure before and after the infusion. He/she will inform the study director of any abnormalities.

Use the plural "they" if you refer to both women and men. If this is inappropriate, use "he/she" to include both sexes.

Another aspect of sexist writing concerns the use of marital titles. While men in our society have always been "Mr" (a title that does not reveal their marital status), women are labeled with respect to their marital status by using the term "Miss" for unmarried women and "Mrs" for married women.

I cannot think of any good reason why the neutral term, "Ms," created in 1950 to include both unmarried and married women, should not be used. After years of resistance, most publishers and official bodies have meanwhile accepted this title.

Q Use the neutral title (Ms) for women of either marital status in everything you write, unless the woman holds a doctorate, in which case you should address her as "Dr XY."

Gender-biased expressions in scientific and medical literature are particularly annoying. How often do we still see the term "chairman" used for a woman chairing a scientific session? Similarly, a female speaker may be called a "spokesman," totally disregarding her gender. Such gender-marked terms are clearly unacceptable, and most of these can be easily replaced by a gender-neutral term.

When using general terms in connection with our fellow creatures, e.g., man, mankind, or manpower, a gender-neutral expression is always preferred. Here, this could be the human race, people, and work force or staff.

Q Use gender-neutral terms in titles and salutations. Avoid any expression containing "man" if you refer to both women and men.

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