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2 Tutorials that teach Gender and Generic Pronoun Choice
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Gender and Generic Pronoun Choice
Common Core: 6.L.1a 7.L.1a

Gender and Generic Pronoun Choice

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Author: Sydney Bauer
Description:
This lesson discusses the issue of gender with pronoun references to a generic noun.
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Tutorial

 

In order to refer to one person indirectly (or in the third person), a writer or a speaker must use pronouns such as he/his/him or she/hers/her. Those options are gender specific: “her” refers to a single female in the third person, and “him” refers to a single male in the third person. Standard English does not have a third-person pronoun in singular form that is gender neutral.

 

When and why does this matter?

Whenever you want to write about roles that can easily be occupied by either gender (astronaut, president, writer, student, housekeeper, CEO, firefighter, police officer, etc.), you will need to use pronouns because it is difficult and awkward to rely only on the noun that the pronoun would replace.

  • The writer chooses the writer’s words carefully. (AWKWARD!)
  • A diligent student studies even if the student didn’t have a test. (REDUNDANT!)
  • An astronaut is allowed to carry one small personal item with the astronaut into space. (CONFUSING!)

Until recently, the standard approach has been to always use he/his/him, even though no gender has been specified.

  • The writer chooses his words carefully. (HIS)
  • A diligent student studies even if he doesn’t have a test. (HE)
  • An astronaut is allowed to carry one small personal item with him into space. (HIM)

Though this may seem like a minor point, the use of male-specific pronouns is a source of sexism within Standard English. In an effort to avoid using he/his/him, writers have used “they/them” and “s/he” or “his or her” type constructions.

However, “they/them” is incorrect because it is plural (he/his/him and she/her(s)/her are singular).

But constructions like “s/he” or “his or her” can easily become awkward and long-winded, making readers lose interest. So what should you do?

Here are some possible solutions:

  • Replace the singular noun with a plural to avoid gender-specific language
    • Writers choose their words carefully.
    • Diligent students study even if they don’t have a test.
    • Astronauts are allowed to carry one small personal item with them into space.
  • Use “s/he,” “she/he,” “her/him,” and “hers/his” type constructions if you only need to use them once or twice per page. Writers use both the slash mark and the word “or” to separate the male and female pronouns in this type of construction. If you use too many of them in one paragraph, or even throughout your paper, they become monotonous, awkward, and lengthy, so only use them once in a while.
    • The writer chooses his/her words carefully.
    • A diligent student studies even if he or she doesn’t have a test.
    • An astronaut is allowed to carry one small personal item with him/her into space.
  • Turn the clause into a verb phrase
    • The writer is careful when choosing words.
  • Change the point of view
    • As a diligent student, you study even if you don’t have a test.
  • Eliminate the troublesome phrasing (if possible)
    • An astronaut is allowed to bring one small personal item into space.