I recently joined Newgen Publishing UK as the Deputy Team Leader for the Taylor & Francis account. Previously I worked for several years as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader and am a professional member of the CIEP. I studied foreign languages at university and have always been fascinated by the intricacies of language and how we use it to communicate.
When we write, regardless of what we are writing, we want to make sure that no one who reads our work feels excluded or sidelined, either on account of their race, religion or gender, on which I focus here. This is known as writing “inclusively” and there are a lot of things we can do to make sure that the language we are using is as inclusive as possible. Here are a few tips.
Avoid using examples that reinforce gender stereotypes. This includes offering too many examples of, for example, a male politician, a male doctor, a female nurse, etc. This reinforces the idea that these roles are more suited to one particular gender than another, sidelining the many female (or transgender) politicians, female doctors and male nurses in the world. We should also avoid stereotyping people by assumption, such as referring to the “male” therapist and the “female” patient. If in your writing you are using case studies that refer to specific, gendered individuals, try to provide a balanced picture of people of all genders fulfilling these roles.
Think carefully about how you refer to unspecified individuals. In recent decades, “he or she” or “s/he” have been used as acceptable ways to describe an unnamed, unspecified person. But we should now consider whether this practice is still fit for purpose, if it excludes those that do not identify as either male or female. To be fully inclusive, we could instead use the singular “they/them” pronouns to refer to people without making any reference to their gender at all. Some sources will tell you that this is ungrammatical, but I think we need to ask ourselves which is more important: grammatical pedantry or honouring and respecting the feelings and rights of all individuals?
Avoid “othering” one group in particular. One example of this is the practice of categorising sports as relating to either “Football” or “Women’s Football”, and “Cricket” or “Women’s Cricket”. This clearly defines the male format of the sport as “the norm” and the female format as “the other”. In other sports in which women’s participation has typically received greater public attention, such as tennis, gymnastics and figure skating, such distinctions are not generally used. How can we expect today’s young women, or transgender individuals, to aspire to a career as a professional footballer or cricketer if the media are feeding them the narrative that such aspirations are abnormal?
Respect other people’s identities. It’s fair to say that there are a number of different terms that people use to define their gender identity – transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, to name a few – and what might be right for one individual may not be right for another. But we can ensure that we refer to everyone inclusively by respecting the terms that people choose to describe themselves and by making an effort to understand the meanings behind these terms and how they should be used. So if you are working with an individual who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, make sure that you always use these pronouns when referring to them.
Use ungendered terms. It’s interesting to note how much gender bias is present in our everyday language. Consider the following terms: freshman, policeman, mankind, chairman. Many of these terms have better, ungendered alternatives we could be using instead: fresher, police officer, humankind, chairperson. Consider also dropping the use of female-only terms such as stewardess, actress and heroine. Why can’t we just be stewards, actors and heroes, regardless of our gender?
Be an advocate of gender-inclusive language. In the Newgen Publishing UK office, many of our staff are now choosing to include their preferred gender pronouns at the end of their email signatures. This helps to normalise the practice for those whose preferred gender pronouns may not obviously match their given names. Consider changing the language you use in everyday speech as well, such as referring to “all genders” rather than “both genders”.