Tag Archives: gender

How to Avoid Sexism in Writing

Most writers know that it is no longer acceptable to use “he” to refer generically to both males and females. The trouble is that you may not know how to replace it. Most people, instead, fall into this trap:

An elven archer carries an unlimited supply of arrows in their quiver.

That is, when referring to a person of unspecified gender, we tend to replace the unacceptable “he” with the seemingly neutral “they” or “them.” The trouble is that that is wildly grammatically incorrect.

What to do? You have two options.

Your first option is to use the clunky but correct “his or her,” as in, “An elven archer carries an unlimited supply of arrows in his or her quiver.” As a one-off sentence, you can do this without loading down the text. But if you intend to write several more sentences like this, the result is distracting and pretty much atrocious.

An elven archer carries an unlimited supply of arrows in his or her quiver. He or she also is fleet of foot, and he or she prizes his or her bow.

Horrible! Your option in this case is to just pick a gender. You can say, “An elven archer carries an unlimited supply of arrows in her quiver” with no repercussions. You could also say “his.”

Alternately, in some cases, you can rewrite a few of the sentences to eliminate the pronouns completely. For example, you can write,

An elven archer carries an unlimited supply of arrows in his or her quiver. Such an archer is also fleet of foot, and all elven archers prize their bows.

Some of our older words to describe professions, however, are inherently sexist. These professions have been renamed to avoid sexism. Here, a short list.

  • Policeman is now police officer.
  • Salesman is now salesperson.
  • Fireman is now fire fighter.
  • Anchorman is now anchor.
  • Chairman is now chair.
  • Congressman is now member of Congress.
  • Mailman is now letter carrier.
  • Workmen is now workers.

Others have been eliminated altogether, so that stewardess is now flight attendant, actress is now actor, and hostess is now host.

Some words, of course, do not brook changes. For example, what would you use in place of manpower? In cases like these, where no known alternative is available, you’ll simply have to use the word.

Note: No grammar rules exist that I know of to cover non-binary genders. If you know of a consensus on any of these, please drop me a line and let me know so that I can add to this article! Thanks!