Nonsexist language is written, verbal or nonverbal communication that is inclusive and does not reflect a bias based on sex. Language is sexist if it discriminates because of one’s sex; reinforces the idea of one sex’s superiority; or perpetuates sex and gender role stereotypes. Language that ignores, limits, or trivializes women and girls, and language that excludes or belittles women’s values, perspectives, and experiences is sexist, as would be comparable language related to men and boys. Often language can unintentionally communicate sexism. University of Maine’s Nonsexist Language Policy:
“The University of Maine, as an equal opportunity educational institution, is committed to both academic freedom and the fair treatment of all individuals. It therefore discourages the use of sexist language. Language that reinforces sexism can arise from imprecise word choices that may be interpreted as biased, discriminatory, or demeaning, even if they are not intended to be. Accordingly, all university communications whether delivered orally or in writing, shall be free of sexist language. Each member of the university community is urged to be sensitive to the impact of language and to make a personal commitment to eliminate sexist language. Supervisory personnel have a particular responsibility to discuss this policy with faculty and staff and to make available to them the guidelines on nonsexist language.”
Sexist language often omits one sex by assuming that the other is the norm.
-A nurse cares for her patient
-A college athlete needs to budget his time carefully
-A nurse cares for a patient
-Budgeting time is essential for college athletes
Stereotypes are sexist because they arbitrarily assign characteristics to people or thing based on sex.
-The office relies heavily on its girls
-We will hire four new men to keep the grounds
-The office relies heavily on its secretaries or administrative assistants
-We will hire four new groundskeepers
Sexist language also refers to people in general with sex-specific nouns and pronouns.
-We will be studying early man
-A freshman has many courses of study from which he may choose
-We will be studying the first humans
-First-year students will have many courses of study from which they may choose
For more information on nonsexist language:
The Staff of the Princeton Review. Grammar Smart: A Guide to Perfect Usage. New York: Random House, 2001.