Monday, December 13, 2010

Topic: Avoiding Gender Bias in Writing and Oral Expression

10-second review: Explores gender unfairness in our writing classes—and all other classes, as well. 

Summary: The author of this article is out to prove gender bias in writing classes—and all other classes, as well. Quote: “One exercise I use in class….is to ask students to evaluate terms we hear daily—‘policeman,’ ‘man’s best friend,’ ‘mankind,’ ‘woman’s work,’ ‘female intuition’ –and to ask questions about what our language assumes about gender.”

Comment: The major issue about giving credit to both sexes in writing about the human race is finding a graceful way to express gender fairness. I offer this advice, which does not solve all gender-fairness problems, but does solve a major issue. With expressions like the following—“Everyone returned to their homes”—which is ungrammatical because “Everyone” is singular and “their” is plural, you have several choices.

The first choice is standard, but sexist:“Everyone returned to his home.” Now the agreement between pronoun and antecedent is acceptable, but sexist. It favors the male point of view. Another choice is sex fair, but ugly in expression: “Everyone returned to her/his home.” Another clever device, but still ugly, is a favorite in my professional journals:” s/he.”  Of course, that device does not solve this problem. 

The better, gender-fairer choice is to begin in the plural and stay there: “The students returned to their homes.” Whenever you start out in the singular, you are asking for trouble. At some point, you are going to need to refer to the singular pronoun, which will present you with the same problem as “Everyone returned to his or her home,” which is ugly. So start in the plural and stay there. The result will be much smoother expression and may result in more precision, as in “The students returned to their homes.” When I’m writing, I stay away from the singular subject. I start in the plural and stay there. RayS.

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