Dealing with gender

If you do any sort of writing with any sort of regularity, at some point you are going to have to deal with gender.  I’m referring to unknown gender.  Of course when I’m writing about specific people, then I know their gender. However, I’m talking about generalizations — like in the previous sentence.

Gender is something to be dealt with and seriously considered.  Unfortunately it is also often misused.  I offer my tips for writing easily with gender. These are tips that I use myself and have taught a few classrooms of writing students.

Decide where  you stand on the he/she debate. For years the rule was that if you don’t know the gender, then use masculine pronouns.  Like: “Everyone should read his book.”  Then we came across using both.  Like: “Everyone should read his or her book.”  These days I read quite a few articles that pick one and stick with it or alternate between the masculine and feminine pronouns.  I have one e-newsletter I receive that refers to gender one week as male and one week as female.  No matter what you decide, be consistent.  Admittedly, I’m still a bit old school and tend to use “he” when in doubt.

Go plural and avoid gender all together. Even once you know where you stand on the gender debate, your best bet is to go plural as often as possible and not have to deal with it at all.  Sometimes plural doesn’t make sense, but often it does.  Take the example in the previous point.  Change it to: “People should read their books.”  Now that it’s plural, gender isn’t an issue.    One major caveat here is make sure your pronouns match.  Had I said, “Everyone should read their book,” I would have been grammatically incorrect.  “Everyone” is singular and deserves a matching singular pronoun.  “Each” is another singular example that often gets “their” incorrectly used with it.

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