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Guidelines for the Use of Nonsexist Language

"The investigation of the meaning of words is the beginning of education."
-Atisthenes


NOTE: These guidelines were last revised in January 2000. The UNH President's Commissions, in collaboration with other university offices and organizations, are currently developing a Bias-Free Language Guide. For more information about this guide, please contact the Commission office.

Open Letter to the UNH Community
Introduction
About these Guidelines
UNH Guidelines for the Use of Nonsexist Language
A Final Word
Recommended Bibliography


An Open Letter to the UNH Community
from Dr. Joan Leitzel, President of the University of New Hampshire

Dear Colleagues,

The University of New Hampshire, as an equal opportunity education institution, is committed to both academic freedom and the fair treatment of all individuals. Part of this commitment is the creation of an environment that avoids the reinforcement of demeaning attitudes and stereotypes about sex roles. Consequently, in 1984, the Academic Senate, the Faculty Caucus, and both the Operating and PAT Staff Councils adopted a nonsexist language policy.

Language may convey meanings that are different for the listener than the speaker. Where suitable alternatives exist to gender-specific words, I believe it is appropriate to use them. This is especially true at UNH since we have a responsibility of not only providing educational opportunities for our students but also helping them form personal values.

The UNH policy does not call for institutional monitoring or sanctions. It asks for each of us to make a personal commitment to use bias-free language. I urge each of you to be sensitive to the impact of language so that the University of New Hampshire provides positive educational experiences for all.

Sincerely,

Joan R. Leitzel, President University of New Hampshire

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Introduction

On July 13, 1984, the University of New Hampshire issued the following bylaw entitled "Policy on Nonsexist Language" (University System Policy Manual III-B-8.1) which reads:

The University of New Hampshire, 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 language and illustrations that reinforce inappropriate and demeaning attitudes, assumptions, and stereotypes about sex roles. Accordingly, all official University communications, whether delivered orally or in writing, shall be free of sexist language.

Compliance with this policy shall be the responsibility of appropriate supervisory personnel. Concerns or questions regarding the implementation of this policy can be directed to the Affirmative Action Office. Copies of this policy and suggested guidelines for the use of nonsexist language will be available from the Affirmative Action Office and the UNH Commission on the Status of Women.

These guidelines were prepared to assist members of the UNH community who may be unfamiliar with the use of nonsexist language. These Guidelines represent a revision of the 1985 and 1996 handbooks and are adapted from several references, including the APA "Guidelines to Reduce Bias in Language" (1994) and the AUP Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing (1995). Other handbooks are also available. Most major publishing houses and many professional organizations have developed guidelines on the use of bias-free language. A partial listing of these handbooks appears in the bibliography at the end of this publication.

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About These Guidelines

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. The following guidelines are offered to help in recognizing and changing word choices that may be inaccurate, misleading, or discriminatory. Sexual bias in language may be classified into two categories that are conceptually different: concerns of designation and concerns of evaluation.

Designation

In the case of sexism, long-established cultural practice can exert a powerful, insidious influence over even the most conscientious person. Care should be used to ensure accuracy, clarity, and freedom from bias. Nouns, pronouns, and adjectives that designate persons can be chosen to eliminate, or at least minimize, the possibility of ambiguity in sex identity or sex role. In the following examples, concerns of designation are divided into two subcategories: ambiguity of referent, in which it is unclear whether the speaker or author means one or both sexes, and stereotyping, in which the language conveys unsupported or biased connotations about sex roles and identity.

Evaluation

Non-sexist language is free of implied or irrelevant evaluation of the sexes. Difficulties may derive from the habitual use of cliches, or familiar expressions, such as "man and wife." The use of "man" and "wife" together implies differences in the freedom and activities of each, and evaluation of roles can occur. As listed among the examples that follow, "husband and wife" are parallel, "man and wife" are not. Concerns of evaluation, like concerns of designation, are divided into ambiguity of referent and stereotyping.

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UNH Guidelines for the Use of Nonsexist Language

"MAN" as False Generic

Examples of common usage Consider meaning. An alternative may be better.  Comment or revision
1. Man, like other mammals, breastfeeds his young. Humans, like other mammals, breastfeed their young. Changed to plural
2. Man's search for knowledge has led him into ways of learning that require examination.

The search for knowledge has led us into ways of learning that require examination.

People have continually sought knowledge. The search has led them into ways of learning that...

Rephrased.

 

Rewritten in two sentences.

3. The use of experiments in psychology presupposes the mechanistic nature of man.

man, mankind


man's achievements


the average man

to man a project


manpower

man's search for knowledge

The use of experiments in psychology presupposes the mechanistic nature of the human being.

People, humanity, human beings, humankind, men and women, we

human achievements, achievements of the human species

the average person, people in general

to staff a project, hire personnel, employ staff

workforce, personnel, workers

the search for knowledge

 

Noun substituted

 

The term MAN denotes an adult male human being and no longer functions generically. For these examples, numerous true generic alternatives that may be substituted are available.

If you choose to use a male generic, or if a text you are citing uses a male generic, it is recommended that you note your awareness/concerns.

Collective and plural nouns substituted

Inclusive phrase substituted

4. chairman (the head of an academic department or organization)

chairman (presiding officer of a committee or meeting)

Use chairperson or chair.


chairperson, chair, moderator, discussion leader

Although "chairman" is the "official term" in parliamentary usage, alternatives are acceptable in most settings.
5. Only freshmen are eligible for tutorial assistance. Only first-year students are eligible for tutorial assistance. "First-year students" is an appropriate substitute.


Generic "HE" as Referent

Examples of common usage Consider meaning. An alternative may be better.  Comment or revision
6. The client is usually the best judge of the value of his counseling.

The client is usually the best judge of the value of counseling.

Clients are usually the best judges of the value of the counseling they receive.

The best judge of the value of counseling is usually the client.

Avoided use of the personal pronoun


Changed to plural


Rephrased

7. Subjects were 16 girls and 16 boys. Each child was to place a car on his board so that two cars and boards looked alike.

Each child was to place a car on his or her board so that two cars looked alike...Each child was to place a car on his/her board.

 

The children were to place cars on their individual boards...

Changed his to his/her or their; however, use sparingly to avoid monotonous repetition. Her/his (her or his) may also be used, but it is cumbersome. Keep pronoun order consistent to avoid ambiguity.

Changed to plural

8. Questions to consider in selecting candidates:

Does the candidate have strong references? Does he have relevant experience? Can he operate a forklift? Can he...?

Questions to consider in selecting candidates:

Does the candidate have strong references? Does he have relevant experience? Can she operate a forklift? Can he...?

Alternate gendered pronouns, keeping in mind possible stereotyping that can occur.


Gendered Stereotyping

Examples of common usage Consider meaning. An alternative may be better.  Comment or revision

9. the professor...he

 

 

the secretary...she

 

 

the supervisor...he

 

 

the nurse...she

the professors...they

the professor...she (or...he)

 

the secretaries...they

the secretary...he (or...she)

 

the supervisors...they

the supervisor...she (or...he)

 

the nurses...they

the nurse he (or...she)

Be specific as to gender (if only one gender is implied) or change to plural if discussing both women and men.

 

 

 

10. woman doctor, male nurse,

lady lawyer, male teacher,

female poet, male secretary

doctor, nurse,

lawyer, teacher,

poet, secretary

Gender identification was removed. Specify gender only if relevant and/or necessary for discussion, i.e., "13 female doctors and 22 male doctors."

11. foreman, policeman,

stewardess, housewife,

mailman

supervisor, police officer,

flight attendant, homemaker,

postal worker/mail carrier

Noun substituted. Directly specify gender only if necessary and/or relevant to the discussion.

12. ambitious men and aggressive women

 

cautious women and timid men; cautious men and timid women


caring women and ambivalent men

 

outspoken men and abrasive women

ambitious women and men or ambitious people; aggressive men and women or aggressive people

cautious men and women or cautious people; timid women and men or timid people

caring women and men or caring people; ambivalent men and women or ambivalent people

outspoken men and women or outspoken people; abrasive women and men or abrasive people

Some adjectives, depending on whether the person is describing a woman or a man, connote bias.

 

These examples illustrate some common usages that may not always convey exact meaning, especially when paired as in
column one.

 

 

13. The boys chose typically male toys.

The student's behavior was typically female.

He acts like an old woman in the way he . . .

The boys chose (specify)...

The students behaved in the following way: (specify)...

He did the following: (specify)...

Being specific reduces the possibility of stereotypical bias.
14. Thank the girls in the office for typing the report. Thank the secretaries in the office for typing the reports. Noun substituted
15. coed female student Descriptive word and noun substituted
16. women's lib, women's libber women's movement, feminist, supporter of the women's movement Noun substituted
17. men and women, sons and daughters, boys and girls, husbands and wives women and men, daughters and sons, boys and girls, husbands and wives Vary the order to promote inclusivity.

18. men and girls

the men and their wives

the women and their husbands

men and women,

men and women,

women and men

 

Use "equal" terms in order to denote gender equality.

 

19. Scientists are often separated from their wives and children when their research requires them to travel. Scientists are often separated from their spouses and children...families... Alternate wording acknowledges that women as well as men are scientists.
20. He lets his wife teach part-time. She teaches part-time. The author of this example intended to communicate the working status of the woman but inadvertently revealed a stereotype about wife-husband relationships.
21. mothering, fathering parenting, nurturing (or specify exact behavior) A noun is substituted. Unless gender is specifically implied, avoid gendering a non-gendered activity.
22. I would like to thank my wife for her patient support and the many cups of coffee. I would like to thank (name) for (specify). The author of this example intended to express thanks but inadvertently revealed a stereotype about women's contributions to their husbands' research.
23. The University acknowledges the assistance of Mrs. John Smith.

The University acknowledges the assistance of Doris Smith.

The University acknowledges the assistance of Doris Evans (Her last name differs from her partner's.)

Use given names in acknowledgments. Use the appropriate form: Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss according to the preference of the addressee or relevance of marital status. Keep in mind that partners may not have the same last name.
24. Dear Mr. and Mrs. John Smith

Dear John and Doris Smith

Dear Mr. and Ms. Smith

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith

The same use of appropriate form applies in letters and other written correspondence.
25. Dear Mrs. John Smith

Dear Mrs. Doris Smith (or Ms.)

Dear Ms. Doris Evans (if wife and husband have different last names)

Whenever possible, especially with ongoing correspondence, check with the addressee for his/her name preference.

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A Final Word

When using this handbook, keep in mind that attempting to introduce nonsexist language at the cost of awkwardness, obscurity, or euphemism does not improve communication. The use of nonsexist language is not simply a matter of avoiding specific words or phrases, and these guidelines are not prescriptions for all possible uses of nonsexist language.

Authors and speakers should indicate specific gender only in situations in which a single gender is being discussed. Although quotations should not be altered, writers and speakers should acknowledge the first instance of gender bias to alert an audience. It is important, however, that authors and speakers not hide gender identity when knowledge of gender may be important to the reader or listener.

Any endeavor to change our language is a formidable task at best. Some aspects of our language considered sexist are firmly embedded in our culture and will only change with education and self-reflection. On the other hand, with some rephrasing and careful attention to meaning, even the generic "he" can be avoided most of the time. Again, the purpose of these guidelines is to generate discussion and to facilitate and promote accurate use of language.

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Recommended Bibliography

American Psychological Association, "Guidelines to Reduce Bias in Language." Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 4th ed. Washington: APA, 1994, 46-60.

Frank, Francine Wattman, and Paula A. treichler, with others. Language, Gender, and Professional Writing: Theoretical Approaches and Guidelines for Nonsexist Usage. New York: MLA, 1989.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York: MLA, 1995.

International Association of Business Communication. Without Bias: A Guidebook for Nondiscriminatory Communication. Ed. J.E. Pickens, P.W. Rao, and L.C. Roberts. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley, 1982.

Maggio, Rosalie. The Nonsexist Word Finder: A Dictionary of Gender Free Usage. 1987. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

Miller, Casey and Kate Swift. The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing. 2nd ed. New York: Harper-Collins Publishing, 1988.

Schwartz, Marilyn and the Task Force of the Association of American University Presses. Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.

Sorrels, Bobbye D. The Nonsexist Communicator: Solving the Problems of Gender and Awkwardness in Modern English. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983.

Warren, Virginia L. "Guidelines for the Nonsexist Use of Language." American Philosophical Association Proceedings , 59 (1986): 471-84.

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If thought corrupts language, language also can corrupt thought.
- George Orwell

The language is perpetually in flux: it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing old forms in the backwaters of time.
- E.B. White

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
- Ingrid Bengis

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
- Mark Twain

Language exerts power, like a moon on the tides.
- Rita Mae Brown

In reality, all communication that debilitates females also debilitates males, for if any system diminishes a part of the species, it diminishes all of it.
- Bobbye D. Sorrels


Revision Editors:
Anne Righton Malone and tracy Lonergan, 1996.
Rebekah Brooks, Sylvia Foster, and Julie Simpson, 2000.

Text copies of these Guidelines are available by request at the commission office.


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