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Gender Neutral LanguageThe use of gender-neutral language may seem unnecessary to some writers, but the consistent use of masculine pronouns leaves the impression that women could not be among the group to which the writer is referring. While some may respond that the masculine pronouns "he" and "his" refer to men and women both, the impression left is in the eye of the reader, not that of the writer. Because many readers read masculine pronouns to refer only to men, the writer, perhaps inadvertently, will have created the wrong impression. Furthermore, in the practice of law, those who use only masculine pronouns may find later -- to their great regret -- that the supervising attorney or judge to whom the work was submitted would never use masculine pronouns as general terms in her work.
The key rule of thumb is to avoid using gender-specific language; resort to alternatives like "he or she" only if there is no way to write the sentence without the pronouns. In most cases, one can rewrite any sentence to avoid the need for gender-based pronouns. There are three methods explained below. The first of the three is the most desirable. Do not use "their" as an alternative to his or her; "their" should be used only when referring to a plural subject. Each of the rules here offers a method of avoiding gender-based language.
1. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the need for any pronoun at all. One can often substitute the words "the" or "a" for the pronoun.
Incorrect: A good judge takes their job very seriously.Undesirable:A good judge takes his or her job very seriously.Better: A good judge takes the job very seriously.
ORA good judge takes judging very seriously.Incorrect: A defendant should not be required to sacrifice their constitutional right to a fair trial for the sole benefit of allowing televised coverage of their trial.Better: A defendant should not be required to sacrifice his or her constitutional right to a fair trial for the sole benefit of allowing televised coverage of his or her trial.Best: A defendant should not be required to sacrifice the constitutional right to a fair trial for the sole benefit of allowing televised coverage of the trial.
2. If necessary, use "one" instead of "he or she" or "his or her." However, one should avoid this formulation as well, if possible, since the use of "one" can be awkward.
Less desirable:A person who masters the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and good writing is likely to impress his or her supervisors.
More desirable:One who masters the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and good writing is likely to impress one's supervisors.
3. If necessary, change the subject from singular to plural. When you are referring not to a specific individual but to a type of individual, you can avoid both gender-specific pronouns and the incorrect use of the pronoun "their" by using a plural subject.
Incorrect: A teacher must communicate clearly with their students.Also Incorrect:
A teacher must communicate clearly with her students.Better: A teacher must communicate clearly with his or her students.
Best: Teachers must communicate clearly with their students.
4. Avoid the use of "s/he" as a substitute for a proper pronoun. Some have proposed the use of "s/he" as a substitute for "he or she." However, "s/he" is not a word and is awkward to read. (Does one read it as "she" or as "s slash he"? Is either choice desirable?)
Incorrect: The successful lawyer will shepardize all cases cited in a memo. S/he also will avoid quoting from headnotes.
Correct: Successful lawyers will shepardize all cases cited in a memo. They also will avoid quoting from headnotes.
5. Avoid the use of gender-specific titles if possible.
Chair, chairperson, leader
Member of Congress, Representative
Officer, police officer, police official
6. Use the terms "Ms." and "Mrs." properly. If you know that a person refers to herself as "Mrs." or "Miss," you should respect that choice. However, if you don't know the individual's preference, you should use "Ms." Women should not be required to reveal their marital status by the use of "Mrs." or "Miss." The use of the term "Mr." in referring to a man does not reveal his marital status. Although "Ms." is not actually an abbreviation for a longer term, it nonetheless has become accepted to place a point after the term.
Undesirable:Mrs. Hillary Clinton; Mrs. Clinton; Ms. Clinton
More Undesirable:Mrs. William J. Clinton
Better Choices:Hillary Rodham Clinton; Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton; Ms. Rodham Clinton
7. Use last names properly. If a woman chooses to use her maiden name instead of her married name, or to use her maiden name and her married name (with or without a hyphen), you should respect that choice. Similarly, if a person uses a hyphenated name containing the last names of both parents, you should respect that choice.
Undesirable:Justice Ruth Ginsburg; Justice Sandra O'Connor
Better (and wiser) choices:Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Undesirable:Christian Dinneen; Christian Long; Mr. Dinneen; Mr. Long
Better choices:Christian Dinneen-Long; Mr. Dinneen-Long
Cross Reference: Pronouns
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