Gendered language refers to any terms that indicate the gender of the who we’re talking about. This can include pronouns such as “he/him” or “she/her” as well as gendered nouns such as “actress” or “policeman”. At Write for All, we strive to eliminate unnecessary use of gendered, exclusionary language. This will make web content more inclusive of all genders and sexualities.
Even if it’s technically true that words with the “-man” suffix are used to label all genders, it’s also a fact that using inclusive language can improve attitudes over time. We’ve seen positive results before in multiple languages throughout the world. Although equitable language hasn’t been legally enforced, it’s ideal from an empathetic standpoint. Even if you do believe that your own identity isn’t threatened or excluded by traditional language, we are all a part of society together.
Although all genders have mostly achieved legal equality in what roles we can and can’t have, unequal social forces are still at play. All genders face social discrimination when entering a role not stereotypically occupied by their gender. A notable example is women in tech.
Exclusive language does not reflect equality. Even if women are legally allowed to become firefighters, the word “firemen” is still commonly used to refer to all firefighters. Using more gender-neutral language perpetuates the idea that any gender can take on any role. Another crucial benefit is that it allows us to be more inclusive of non-binary individuals and our LGBTQ+ community.
Words like “anchorman” or “businessman” may not be enforcing any laws and are considered generic terms. However, they're subtly reflective of traditional attitudes that strongly favor men in such positions. After all, many of these terms originated in times when only men were allowed in such positions. More gender-neutral language, such as “anchor” or “business executive”, fits with our narrative that any gender can have any career.
What we consider to be exclusionary and discriminatory language may not be intended to be that way, but these words nevertheless have negative social impact. The language we use can change our attitudes, behavior, and perceptions. It won’t happen overnight, rather it’s a cumulative effort that makes a change. Learning and adapting more inclusive language is a sign of overall inclusivity. Even if they’re small nudges, a million of them together can make a tremendous difference.
Even if we know that the “man” in the phrases “like all mankind” and “man-made” are stand-ins for “human”, why can’t we say “human”?
Using more inclusive language also extends beyond gender. Disabled and LGBTQ+ individuals are also affected by exclusionary and discriminatory language. For example, many terms used to describe disabled individuals can come off as harsh and are often used as microaggressions, such as “special”. Instead of “special person”, “person with disabilities” is better as it puts the person first literally and socially. This is called “person-first” language.
Gender equality cannot be achieved without gender equity. Gender equity is the fairness of treatment of all genders respective to their unique needs. This makes it a necessary condition for equality. Equality is the outcome, equity is a vital means to achieve it.
With Write for All, you’ll be joining us on the road to gender, disabilityablelist, and LGBTQ+ equity so we can keep fighting for equality together.