Back to Writing Tips


Gender-Biased Language


What is Gender-Biased Language?

·      If language is gender biased, it favors a certain gender over another.

·      In the case of English, the particular bias is usually the preference of the masculine over the feminine.

·      At first glance, it would appear that gender bias is built into the English language. Rules of grammar once dictated that we use masculine pronouns (he, his, him, himself) whenever a singular referent is required and we don’t know the gender of the person we’re talking about

·      Though this practice has been changing there are still some words that we use regularly that include the feminine. Consider the following examples: Workmen’s Compensation, mankind, chairman, man-made.

What about in writing?

·      You may be practicing gender-biased language even if you don’t know it!!

·      Reflect on your writing and ask yourself:

1.    Do I typecast all men as leaders, all women as dependents?

2.    Do I associate seriousness only with men and emotionalism only with women?

3.    Do I refer to women according to physical appearance and men according to their personal status?

·  Considering bias is especially important when reporting true-life events. Think about how you might interpret the following sentence: The admirable Dr. William Hicks and his wife Mary, an attractive former model, both showed up at the party.

When addressing a reader

·      NEVER assume that the person reading your story/article will be male.

·      If you do not know the gender of the person on the receiving end of a letter, write, “Dear Madam or Sir,” or “Dear Personnel Officer” but NOT “Dear Sir,” or “Dear Gentlemen” unless you know for sure who will be reading the letter.

·      As far as fiction goes, Charlotte Bronte did it best in Jane Eyre when she addressed her audience, “Reader, I married him.”

What can you do?

·      Just keep it in mind. If you refer to a man by his full name, refer to a woman by her full name.

·      Use parallel terms (“husband and wife” instead of “man and wife”)

·      Eliminate gratuitous physical description. If you write fiction, just remember to avoid stereotyping, and instead focus on the personality of your characters.

·      We’re all talented writers; let’s use our creativity instead of falling back on old gender-biased usage!

How can you avoid gender-biased language in your writing?

·      Here are some helpful examples. In each case, try to picture exactly what the sentence is saying so you can see the difference between biased and non-biased language.

·      Use the plural.

1.    Biased: A nurse is trained to understand her patients’ emotions as well as physical symptoms.

2.    Better: Nurses are trained to understand their patients’ emotions as well as physical symptoms.

·      Eliminate the pronoun or reword to avoid using a pronoun.

1.    Biased: The average teenager worries about his physical fitness.

2.    Better: The average teenager worries about physical fitness.

·      Replace the pronoun with one, he, or she, or an article (a, an, the).

1.    Biased: The parent who reads to her infant cares for her infant’s intellectual growth

2.    Better: The parent who reads to an infant cares for the infant’s intellectual growth.

·      Repeat a title rather than using a pronoun.

1.    Biased: Ask a firefighter for help, and he will get your kitten out of the tree.

2.    Better: Ask a firefighter for help, and the firefighter will get your kitten out of the tree.

·      Alternate male and female examples.

1.    With this, be careful not to confuse your reader; don't bounce back and forth in a confusing way:    Confusing example: A young child is often persuaded by advertisements to buy what he sees on television. When she goes shopping with a parent, she sees the product on the shelf, remembers it, and asks to have it.


Works Consulted:

·      Writers Inc. 1996

·      The Georgia Dept. of Education

·      Prentice Hall Reference Guide


Back to Writing Tips