Recently I was writing something for my study using the terms ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ whilst referring to the way the hero in movies, or ‘good guy’ is often portrayed wearing white and the nasty evil person, ‘the bad guy’, wears black. When I did the spell check, a wonderful message from Microsoft came up on my screen;
Although the marked word or phrase may be acceptable in some situations, consider the suggestion that includes both men and women.
- Instead of: They designed the cooking class for housewives,
- Consider: They designed the cooking class for homemakers.
- Instead of: Have you seen the stewardess?
- Consider: Have you seen the flight attendant?
- Or consider: Have you seen the steward?”
I have been going on about using ‘non gender specific language’ for years and here it was – the same message coming back to me from my laptop courtesy of the Microsoft grammar and spell checker! Fantastic, I am so happy to see this message – thank you Microsoft. As a female, I find reading ‘he this’ and ‘he that’ in documents really quite unsettling when the person is actually me – a ‘she’. For most people, including most women, these male references are not something that they even notice. As women we are so used to hearing the words ‘man’ to describe an individual or group of people of both sexes, and the masculine used in all types of contexts that we often ignore the use of ‘he’ to describe a ‘person’ or the role of a person in documents. Recently I had a contract sent to me for my signature. The entire document used the masculine person instead of using a non-gender specific term like “The Consultant”. I was surprised to see such language in a new document and at first; I tried to ignore the ‘he’ references thinking that I was just being over critical. After the first 15 pages, I was starting to feel a little annoyed so I went back and changed all the references so that the document would actually relate to me before I signed it.
In my business and in my professional life as a Program Manager, I always use non-gender specific terms when referring to people or roles in professional documents. I think that it is respectful and doesn’t assume that a role will be filled by a male or a female. It is more inclusive, so instead of saying something like;
“The Project Manager is responsible for the correct management of the budget, he will ensure that all relevant financial reports are completed and socialised with the project sponsor on a monthly basis”,
I would say;
“The Project Manager is responsible for the correct management of the budget, they will ensure that all relevant financial reports are completed and socialised with the project sponsor on a monthly basis”.
“The Project Manager is responsible for the correct management of the budget, the Project Manager will ensure that all relevant financial reports are completed and socialised with the project sponsor on a monthly basis”.
This is what I was writing when the Microsoft message came up and I changed my ‘good guy’, ‘bad guy’ references to read ‘bad person’, ‘good person’;
I found the Pattel, Gray reading ‘The Hard Truth’ articulating many of my own thoughts in a way that I have never been able to do. The idea that most, if not all women (including indigenous women) in predominately-white societies are judged according to an ‘ideal white female model’ is something that I had not previously considered. I knew that there was a strong image of the ‘Eve as sinner and Mary as virginal model’, but I had not considered how this related to indigenous women. Further that “Whiteness represented goodness, purity, innocence and virginity, and more; this became the basis on which Euro-Australians identified themselves”. (Pattel-Gray, 1999, pp. 259-260).
I wonder if this can be related to the idea of the bad person in movies dressed in black and the good person dressed in white or something that is not black. Certainly, the traditional white wedding dress must fall into this same model?
Whilst most people readily accept my request for non-gender specific terminology in documents, I have had people tell me that this is silly and I should not be so pedantic. That is until I do a simple exercise of replacing all the people references in documents to read ‘she’ instead of the usual ‘he’. Alternatively, when speaking in a meeting or giving a talk, I change the language so it always refers to ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘they’. People both sexes start to feel unsettled. They are used to hearing the masculine and not the feminine, this change is strange for them to hear, but it does not immediately occur to them what has changed, they just know that something has changed.
Have you ever noticed the use of gender specific language and has it annoyed you too?