Editing Tips #3: Gendered Language

For my 3rd post on editing tips, I’d like to talk about gendered language. By gendered language, I am referring to the use of gendered nouns and pronouns when describing an unnamed individual or individuals – generic people on the street, soldiers, priests, etc.

When we use gendered language when we are referring to a person who could be any gender, we are removing the voice of non-binary people. We are also potentially removing the voice of binary people who are deliberately excluded. After all, if the militia is made up of mixed genders, but we refer to its members as militiamen, we are erasing the existence of the women and non-binary folks who belong to it.

The same is true of pronouns. If we use he or she when the person we’re describing could be any gender, we are making our writing less inclusive. When it doubt, use ‘they’ as the pronoun for a generic person or group of people.

Below are some specific examples to be mindful of in writing:

  • Gendered professions: fireman, militiamen, washer woman, seamstress, stewardess. Replace with firefighter, militia members or militia folk, washer or launderer, tailor, flight attendant.
  • Gendering generic characters. When we’re referring to people in mixed groups by a specific gender – folks on the street, an order of priests, or any other group that could be mixed – we are reinforcing patriarchal notions of gender roles. Some good gender-neutral examples: townsfolk, folk, people, officers, clergy.
  • Use of gendered language when referring to groups historically associated with a particular gender. We should avoid using ‘men’ to refer to people in a military group (i.e. the king’s men) unless that group is specifically all men (and in that case, we should examine if there is a compelling reason to exclude everyone else). Instead, use minions, people, servants, warriors, or whatever other non-gender specific term fits. Not only will your writing be more specific, but it will also be more inclusive.

About Eytan Bernstein

40. Bay Area-based writer/editor/RPG designer.
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