GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF NON-SEXIST LANGUAGE
Psychologists have made a substantial contribution to documenting sexism in the structure and use of the English language. Research has refuted the belief that gender-specific terms are invariably interpreted by the reader as generic and in particular, that the male form includes the female. These and other conventions have been shown to reflect and reinforce sex-role stereotypes, and the weight of the evidence is sufficient to justify the effort entailed in writing non-sexist prose.
Help the reader to focus on the content of your paper by avoiding language that may cause irritation, flights of thought, or even momentary interruptions. Such sources of distraction include linguistic devices and constructions that may imply sexual, ethnic or other kinds of bias.
Language that reinforces sexism can spring from subtle errors in research design, inaccurate interpretation or imprecise word choices. An investigator may unintentionally introduce bias into the researech design: for example by using stimulus materials and measures that suggest to one sex or to the other what responses are “appropriate”; or, in interpretation, an investigator may make unwarranted generalisations about both men and women from data about one sex. Imprecise word choices, which occur frequently in journal writing, may be interpreted as biased, discriminatory or demeaning, even if they are not intended to be.
Sexism in journal writing may be classified into two categories: problems of designation and problem of evaluation. When you refer to a person or persons, choose words that are accurate, clear and free from bias. Long-established cultural practice can exert a powerful, insidious influence over even the most conscientious author. For example, the use of “man” as a generic noun can be ambiguous and may convey an implicit message that women are of secondary importance. You can choose nouns, pronouns and adjectives to eliminate, or at least to minimise, the possibility of ambiguity in sex identity or sex role. In the examples, problems of designation are divided into two sub-categories: “ambiguity of referent”, when it is unclear whether the author means one sex or both sexes and “stereotyping” when the writing conveys unsupported or biased connotations about sex roles and identity.
Scientific writing, as an extension of science, should be 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 may inappropriately prompt the reader to evaluate the roles. Thus “husband and wife” and “man and woman” are parallel but “man and wife” are not. In the examples below problems of evaluation, like problems of designation, are divided into “ambiguity of referent” and “stereotyping”.
The task of changing language may seem awkward at first. Nevertheless, careful attention to meaning and practice in rephrasing will overcome any initial difficulty. The result of such effort, and the purpose of the guidelines, is accurate, unbiased communication.
Examples of common usage
Problems of designation: ambiguity of referent
1 The client is usually the best judge of the value of his counselling.
The client is usually the best judge of the value of counselling. (Comment: his deleted).
The client is usually the best judge of the value of his or her counselling. (Comment: or her added — use sparingly to avoid monotonous repetition).
Clients are usually the best judges of the value of the counselling. (Comment: changed to plural).
The best judge of the value of counselling is usually the client. (Comment: rephrased).
2 Man’s search for knowledge has led him into ways of learning that bear examination.
The search for knowledge has led us into ways of learning that bear examination. (Comment: rephrased in first person).
People have continually sought knowledge. The search has lead them into ways of learning that bear examination. (Comment: changed to plural and rewritten in two sentences).
3 man, mankind
people, humanity, human beings, humankind, human species
human achievements, achievements of the human species
the average man
the average person, people in general
man a project
staff a project, hire personnel, employ staff
user-system interface, person-system interface, human-machine interface
work force, personnel, workers, human resources
(Comment: various terms substituted for each example).
4 males, females
men, women, boys, girls, adults, children, adolescents (Comment: specific nouns reduce the possibility of stereotype bias and often clarify discussion. Use male and female as adjectives where appropriate and relevant (female experimenter, male subject). Avoid unparallel usage as 10 men and 16 females).
parenting, nurturing (or specify exact behaviour) (Comment: noun substituted).
6 chairman, chairperson, chairwoman
Problems of evaluation: ambiguity of referent
7 The authors acknowledge the assistance of Mrs John Smith
The authors acknowledge the assistance of Jane Smith (Comment: use given names).
8 men and women, sons and daughters, boys and girls, husbands and wives
women and men, daughters and sons, girls and boys, wives and husbands (Comment: vary the order of content does not require traditional order).
9 ambitious men and aggressive women
ambitious women and men, ambitious people
aggressive men and women, aggressive people
cautious men and timid women
cautious women and men, cautious people
timid men and women, timid people
(Comment: some adjectives, depending on whether the person described is a man or woman connote bias. The examples illustrate some common usages that may not always convey exact meaning when paired).
10 woman driver
(Comment: if specifying sex is necessary, avoid biased cliches. Use female driver or write “The driver was a woman”).
11 women’s lib, women’s libber
women’s movement, feminist, support of women’s movement
(Comment: noun substituted).
Like language that may be interpreted as sexist, language that may be construed as ethnically biased can be classified into problems of evaluation. Styles and preferences for nouns referring to ethnic groups change over time. In some cases, even members of a group disagree about the preferred name at a specific time. You should try to ascertain the most acceptable current terms and use them. Consideration for your audience should prevail.
The majority of instances of implied irrelevant evaluation seem to occur when the writer uses one group (usually the writer’s own group) as the standard against which others are assessed. Unfortunately, the basis for negative comparisons is usually established during the planning of the research, for example, by the choice of empirical measures.
At the writing stage, avoid language that suggests evaluation. An example of implied evaluation is found in the term “culturally deprived” when it is used to describe a single group rather than to compare two or more groups. Using the term to describe one group of subjects without the supporting data required in scientific writing implies that one culture is a universally accepted standard against which others are judged. As a test of implied evaluation, substitute another group (eg your own) for the group being discussed. If you are offended by the revised statement, there is probably bias in the original statement.
Non contenti di aver manifestato la propria correttezza politica con la pubblicazione delle “linee direttive” di cui sopra, i cervelloni britannici del britannicissimo Institute of British Geographers le hanno ripubblicate, con supremo sprezzo del ridicolo, su “Area” (volume 23, numero 4, del dicembre 1991), aggiungendovi, per buona misura, le “linee direttive” della ultrabritannicissima British Sociological Association (BSA) per un linguaggio “anti-razzista”. Inutile dire che queste regole sono tuttora in vigore e che colui che non vi si conforma non può pubblicare.
BSA ANTI-RACIST LANGUAGE GUIDELINES
The guidelines are divided into three sections: acceptable terms; acceptable/unacceptable (depending on context); unacceptable terms.
Black. This is a term often used as a new cultural constructural with the implication of solidarity among minorities against racism. To accept this suggests that we should seek to avoid the many negative connotations relating to the word “black” in the English language. However, some Asians in Britain objected to the term black being applied to them. The single term confuses a range of ethnicities. So some way of referring to those Asians seems desirable as an additional term for use as occasion indicates, Persons of South Asian origin may be most appropriate for Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. However, reference to origins is not entirely satisfactory since many second generation members of the minorities were born in Britain and prefer some term which indicate their Britishness. One answer might be — British Asians. One might also use the nationality for more specific reference — British Pakistanis, or Chinese British. It may not matter whether we put the term “British” before or after the accompanying nationality origin. A further advantage of the two terms reference is that the two ethnicities are mentioned and this avoids any suggestion that a member of a minority has chosen or has to choose between them for his/her identity.
Afro-Caribbean is another term popular among many West Indian British. Its overtones seem to be those of an anti-racist language.
Minorities. This is a useful term. It is generally preferable to “ethnic minorities” as this term infers that the majority is not ethnic too. A snag which needs to be born in mind if one is addressing an American audience is that American sociologists seem often to use the term not in a numerical sense but in a power sense. This makes it possible to refer to a numerical majority as a minority if they have minimal power. If one has a British and American audience, one ought therefore to clarify how one is using the term.
Black people/person. Also black British.
British Asians. Also British Pakistanis or Indian British.
There seems to be a case for a category which is neither wholly acceptable, nor wholly unacceptable. Rather, there are some concepts either acceptable or unacceptable depending on the context or usage. Three concepts are considered in these terms and there may be well others.
Non-White. This may be acceptable where one wishes to refer to, say, whites and non-whites. However, continual reference to non-whites might be seen as demeaning. Frequent allusion would therefore do better to use terms like black people, British Asians, etc.
Overseas. Some people argue that it is a neutral term. Other people feel that there is a suggestion of Britain’s former overseas possessions. However, there may be no reason for not using the term for persons from the Third World. But, it is doubtfully relevant for black British since many such will have been born in Britain and hence not be from overseas.
Naming a race or ethnic group. In general there is no case in attempting to avoid spelling out relevant races or ethnic groups. Even so, this is true only if relevant to the context. Unless this is so, the naming device may well be another, if subtle, form of racism. It could be a means of identifying a racial/ethnic group so that they are clarified for pejorative comment.
There are many terms of racial abuse and there is little point in trying to cover them all. However, it may be useful to mention some of the very common ones since some sociologists will often find themselves in positions where the terms are in common use. Moreover, in some situations, people have been taught not to use such terms, eg, some schools, neighbourhood groups, youth clubs, etc.
Racist term Non-racist comment
Cannibal(s) A tradition of cannibalism seems to exist in many
Cannibalism parts of the world but is best avoided in jokes
where it tends to be derogatory to black people.
Civilised/civilisation Colonialist perception. Often associated with
Social Darwinist thought. Full of unperceived
value judgements and ignorance of Third World
history. Use industrial society. However, in some
circumstances (eg, work of Nateil Elisa),
civilisation has a different meaning and does
not have racist overtones.
Coloured Offensive to many black people. Use terms
like black persons, etc.
Host society Unwise term to use now since many former
immigrants can rightfuly claim to be part of
the host society. One could preferably talk of
the society receiving immigrants.
Immigrants Many of the post-World War 2 immigrants are
now part of British society. Use nationality if
known else use terms such as black people, etc.
Indigenous At what point does one become native-born?
Many black people now born in Britain.
Native Native born is acceptable. Otherwise the term
has strong colonialist connotations, eg, whites and natives.
Negro/Negress Often considered acceptable in Britain but not in America. Use depends on the audience.
Primitive Derogatory overtones. Prefer non-industrial.
Queste “anime candide” (si fa per dire) si arrabattano intorno alla quadratura del cerchio politicamente corretto, morbosamente timorosi di non offendere alcuno dei variegati gruppi e gruppuscoli. Al contrario, i sullodati gruppi e gruppuscoli, di solito, hanno, verso gli Europei, come pure nei confronti delle donne (proprie ed altrui), opinioni e comportamenti che, se tenuti da un Europeo, lo farebbero immediatamente bollare come “sessista”, “razzista”, “fascista”, “nazista”, “feccia dell’umanità”, “nemico del popolo”. Ma “loro”, i “non-bianchi”, possono. In compenso, in questa corsa affannosa a dimostrarsi privi di pregiudizi, resta agli squadernati eredi dell’Impero britannico, l’ultimo pregiudizio universalmente ammesso ed approvato: quello contro la Chiesa cattolica.
One last puny question: “fuck off” is “acceptable” or “unacceptable”?
Un’ultima piccola domanda: vaffanc…… è accettabile o no?