As a society, we are becoming more aware of our biases. Any discrimination based on age, gender, race, or other factors is met with justified criticism. We no longer call groups of people “guys” in favor of gender-neutral terms such as “people”. We can do the same with gendered pronouns such as “he”.
When a person’s gender is unknown or unimportant, we often speak about them as if we were talking about men. These sentences are gendered towards men, intentional or not:
- “The person forgot where he parked his car.”
- “The patient does not remember who treated him.”
To counter this pattern, some blindly replace male pronouns with their female counterparts. This well-intentioned change is an overcorrection. We cannot undo the damage done by defaulting to “he” for centuries by flipping the switch and only using “she” now. Calling any group of people “girls” from now on changes little.
There is a gender-neutral solution that might seem unusual to those not yet familiar with it. Allow me to blow your mind: we can replace he/she with they.
Taught to us as a pronoun referring to multiple people, we now use they to refer to individuals. In doing so, we remove any information about a person’s gender. We can also replace him/her with them and his/her with their to achieve the same:
- “The person forgot where they parked their car.”
- “The patient does not remember who treated them.”
To be more inclusive going forward, give the singular they a spin!
This issue reaches further than written and spoken language. I wrote an article called Your API might be sexist that covers a related symptom hidden deep in a product’s code.
All lessons in this course
When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.Read full lesson