Lists: Gender-specific titles

September 26, 2002: Issue 37

SIM STYLE: I recently saw the word “spokeswoman” used in copy. Isn’t that sexist?
Not necessarily. Like all inclusive writing, nonsexist writing means avoiding ASSUMPTIONS. If a subject’s gender is known, it’s not sexist to call a man a man and a woman a woman. SIM’s rules on nonsexist job titles are best applied in general terms, when specific people are not named or when gender isn’t known. In many cases, you may opt for a completely gender-neutral term regardless.

Here’s a tip: Avoid simply changing “-man” words to “-person” words (e.g., spokesman to spokesperson). Repeated use of “-person” words feels forced, and there’s usually a better word altogether.
Check out the following examples:
sexist: Committee chairmen were called into a closed-door meeting.
     nonsexist: Committee leaders were called into a closed-door meeting.
acceptable: Committee chairwoman Susan Collins abstained from voting.
acceptable: Committee leader Susan Collins abstained from voting.
sexist: Industry spokesmen petitioned the administration.
nonsexist: Industry representatives petitioned the administration.
acceptable: Ford spokesman Jeff Smith and Chrysler spokeswoman Sally Jones led the drive.
acceptable: Representatives Jeff Smith of Ford and Sally Jones of Chrysler led the drive.

For more information on nonsexist writing, and for a list of alternatives to many gender-based words, seeNonsexist Writing section in the SIM Stylebook or Issue 10.

GRAMMAR: What’s the difference between evoke and invoke?
These similar-sounding words are often confused, but they have different meanings. “Invoke” implies a calling forth or a summons; “evoke” implies a produced reaction or response, or an awakening.
correct: With their dining room about to be painted neon orange, the homeowners invoked their veto power, evoking a tantrum from the color-happy designer.

Back to Style on the Go Archive
Back to BHG Stylebook Table of Contents