A part of this expression impacts representation
Someone glares at a user manual at the office. Shuttles whizz around a man-made mothership in our latest ebook read, and a foreman talks to his errant employee man-to-man. All of these scenes, we are taught, are free of gender cues. But in the movies inside our heads, we cast a single gender. And because most gender cues are male, we cast men. Other genders stay invisible. By using gender-neutral language, you signal that everyone deserves to be seen.
Doesn't resonate with
- Everyone who identifies as a woman
- People in the LGBTQIA+ community
Dig deeperGender bias and stereotypes are deeply ingrained in how we think and speak. That’s why gender cues hide in expressions and imagery we use every day. While female gender cues do exist, such as mother lode or sister ship, most are male. Male gender cues become even more effective when they frame a historically male-dominated workplace as a male space or refer to traits traditionally seen as male.
Masculine generic nouns and the male generic pronoun he in their wake are essential building blocks for gender cues. On their own, masculine generics are easy to replace with more inclusive alternatives. Neutralizing masculine generics hiding in compound nouns, common expressions, and cultural references can be tricker. In some cases, it takes getting comfortable with going where no one has gone before. Linguistically speaking, of course.
- Ladies First or Ladies Last: Do Masculine Generics Evoke a Reduced and Later Retrieval of Female Exemplars? (N. Keith, K. Hartwig, & T. Richter)
- Using masculine generics: Does generic he increase male bias in the user's imagery? (M.C. Hamilton)