If your teacher has asked you to revise a paper so that it features “inclusive language,” take heart in the fact that you face a relatively simple revision. As the prefix implies, inclusive language includes everyone and excludes no one.
Changing Male References
Inclusive language most often refers to gender-neutral language. As such, any reference to “he,” “him,” “man” and “men” should be substituted for a gender-neutral word in a sentence that refers to an individual or individuals that could be either male or female.
Sentences with sexist pronouns can be made inclusive by changing them to plural. Instead of writing, “A dedicated student takes his homework seriously,” write, “Dedicated students take their homework seriously.” The suffix “man” might sneak up on you but can easily be substituted with inclusive language. For example, write “firefighter” instead of “fireman”; write “salesperson” or “sales representative” instead of “salesman”; and write “letter carrier” instead of “mailman.”
Accepting Some Exceptions
Striving for inclusive language is a worthy goal, but it's not worth creating neologisms, such as writing “person hole covers” instead of “manhole covers,” or unwittingly creating confusion, such as writing “chair” – an object – instead of “chairman.” Most people -- females included -- probably won't blanch over a reference to “man-made” materials. And it's unlikely that colleges and universities will forgo references to their “freshman” class. Ask your teachers where they prefer to draw the line on inclusive language. You might find that they caution you to avoid obvious exclusionary references, such as finding someone to “man” the bake sale counter or “man” the computer lab. But they might be divided on familiar words such as "mankind." Some teachers might accept it while others might uphold a strict standard on inclusive language so that you must change it to "human beings" or "humanity" instead.
- The Free Dictionary: Inclusive Language
- Marquette University: Tips for Using Inclusive, Gender Neutral Language
- The National Association of Teachers: Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language
- Purdue University: Online Writing Lab: Stereotypes and Biased Language
- The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz.
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