Gender-Neutral Language 101: Inclusive Writing for All Genders
Gender-neutral language is quickly becoming the standard for professional and academic settings. It’s even making headway in everyday speech. However, we as a society are still in the early stages of this shift, and not everyone understands what it means or why it’s necessary.
As a non-binary person, this topic is close to my heart. The English language is constantly evolving to fulfill our needs, and with more people coming out as non-binary, we obviously need a way to address and refer to people who don’t identify as men or women.
So, how can you make your writing more inclusive? Here’s everything you need to know about using gender-neutral language.
What Is Gender-Neutral Language?
Gender-neutral words are just what they sound like: words that don’t imply gender. So much of our world is gendered (intentionally and unintentionally) that we’re generally used to using gendered terms more often than gender-neutral ones.
English doesn’t have as many gendered words as Spanish or French, but there’s one big exception: pronouns. For a long time, the only singular pronouns considered grammatically correct were “he/him” and “she/her.” However, the singular “they/them” has been used colloquially for years, and dictionaries and style guides have officially recognized these terms as the preferred gender-neutral language.
Some non-binary people use other pronouns:
If you’re not sure which pronouns to use, just ask.
How do you address mixed groups? For a while, the inclusive choice was to address both men and women. “Ladies and gentlemen” is a great example. However, that excludes individuals who aren’t ladies or gentlemen. It’s now preferred to choose non-gendered language such as “our esteemed guests” to ensure no one is left out.
Feminine and Masculine Terms
Though adjectives and nouns don’t have feminine or masculine forms in English, there are words we generally associate with one gender. For example, when discussing pregnancy, it’s almost second nature to generalize pregnant people as “mothers.” However, binary and non-binary transgender people also experience pregnancy, and using a feminine term such as “mother” excludes that experience. Gender-neutral language ensures readers don’t make assumptions about the subject and acknowledges diverse experiences.
What Are Common Gender Neutral Language Examples?
So, what do gender-neutral terms look like in the real world? You probably use a few of them without even thinking about it.
When should you use “they” as a pronoun? There are two main scenarios: when the subject has stated their pronouns are “they/them” and when you’re unsure of the subject’s gender. Here are a few examples of the latter:
- I called the client, but they didn’t pick up.
- The student didn’t want to do their homework, but they couldn’t play video games until they did.
- You should talk to the manager. They can do something about your complaint.
It feels much more natural to use gender-neutral language for groups since English has many options to choose from. The one thing to keep in mind is that old forms of inclusion sometimes refer only to men and women, so try to incorporate truly neutral terms into your everyday use:
- How’s everybody doing?
- Hi, folks
- Y’all (when appropriate)
- Hey, crew
- What’s up, team?
There are literally hundreds more examples, so experiment to find your favorite — and make sure it’s appropriate for the situation.
Feminine and Masculine Terms
Replacing common gendered terms with gender-neutral language can feel awkward at first. The alternatives may feel wordy, but their effect is more important than conciseness. Eventually, they’ll start to feel more natural as you use them. Here are a few gendered terms that tend to trip people up:
- Instead of “pregnant women,” use “pregnant people.”
- Instead of “menstruating women,” use “people who menstruate.”
- Instead of “mother,” use “parent.”
- Instead of “girl” or “boy,” use “child” or “kid.”
Should You Use Gender-Neutral Language in the Workplace?
Should you be using gender-neutral terms in your professional communications? The answer is: yes.
If you’re talking to a group of people, you can’t always know how each person identifies. To ensure everyone is included and you’re not insulting someone without realizing it, you should always use gender-neutral language in a professional setting. A little consideration goes a long way, especially in your career.
Is It Difficult To Use Gender-Neutral Language?
Adding gender-neutral terms to your speech may be difficult at first. However, like any habit, it’ll become easier the more you practice. Though you may initially have to pause to consider your word choice, it’ll eventually become second nature.
Have you incorporated gender-neutral language into your writing? Comment below to let us know your favorite gender-neutral way to address a crowd. My favorite is “theydies and gentlethems,” because who doesn’t love a good pun?