Find alternatives to sexist language

Though it may be unconscious and unintentional, sexism is common in scientific writing. Consider these examples.

Hard-driving veterinarians in private practice should take more time for their wives and children. Fuch's endothelial dystrophy in man occurs with a predilection for aged females.

The client's behavior was typically male.

Some people are also quite sensitive to nonparallel usage that seems to suggest an inequality.

The study included 10 men and 16 females.

The researchers were surprised to find so many cautious men and timid women.

Avoiding sexist language isn't always easy, because the English language lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun. A writer always has options, however; listed below are six of them.

1. Use a gender-neutral term when speaking generically of your fellow creatures

Instead of: man; mankind; manpower; man on the street Use: the human race; humankind, people; work force, personnel; average person

2. Be sensitive to alternatives in titles and salutations. When a good gender-neutral term is available, use it in place of a clearly gender-oriented title.

Instead of: spokesman; policeman; stewardess

Use: speaker, representative; police officer; flight attendant

3. Use plural constructions whenyou can. Often, it is possible to recast a statement in the plural, thus circumventing the need to use the third person singular pronoun. Avoid breaking the rules of English grammar, however.

Sexist: A doctor should advise his patients.

Grammatically incorrect: Every doctor should advise their patients. Better: Doctors should advise their patients.

4. Replace the third person singular possessive with articles. Avoid s/he, he/she, and his/her. These constructions look awkward and interfere with reading.

In some disciplines, it is popular at the moment to alternate the use of "he" and "she" in text and oral presentations, supposedly to show sensitivity This has the potential to be seriously distracting, however; rather than paying attention to content, people begin playing silent games about which form will be used next.

If none of the other guidelines has been helpful, one can use the slightly less awkward forms "he or she" and "his or hers." However, a more graceful alternative simply omits the possessive form in favor of neutral wording.

Instead of: Have the scientist send his manuscript to Dr. Blow. Better: Have the scientist send the manuscript to Dr. Blow. Instead of: Each technician must be sure that s/he signs his/her time card.

Better but awkward: Each technician must be sure to sign his or her time card.

Better yet: Each technician must be sure to sign a time card.

5. Address readers directly. If you can do so appropriately, substitute "you" for the third person singular pronoun. A direct instruction or command also works in many cases.

Instead of: If the veterinary researcher cannot mail in his samples, he should ask his assistant if she can do it. Better: If you cannot mail in your samples, ask your assistant to do it. Instead of: A nurse must be sure that she uses disposable syringes. Better: Nurses must use disposable syringes.

6. Use the passive voice. (Notice that this option is at the bottom of our list!)

Instead of: Each conference participant should have received his schedule.

Better (but only marginally): Schedules should have been received by conference participants.

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  • Fre-qalsi
    How to avoid sexist language in scientific writing?
    8 years ago

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