November’s DEI spotlight focused on the harm we can unthinkingly cause with ableist language and some suggestions on more inclusive alternatives we can add to our vocabularies. Another area in which old habits are similarly hard to break, and where it’s easy to underestimate the harm we can unintentionally cause others, is in our use of gender pronouns and other gendered terms.
One way to surface how ubiquitous gendered language is in everyday speech and writing is to monitor your own speech or the speech of those you’re talking to for just five minutes and count the number of gender pronouns, or other gendered terms like “guys,” “sir,” and “ma’am” that crop up. (You can practice the same exercise by counting the number of gendered terms and pronouns in an email or other paragraph of written text.) Now pause at each of these occurrences to recognize that an assumption is being made—either an assumption that gender is binary and that everyone is either a “he” or a “she,” a “man” or a “woman”; or an assumption that knowing a person’s name or what they look like enables us to determine what gender they identify with, if any. That’s an awful … Read More