Nonsexist Writing

Avoid writing that fosters sex discrimination, promotes demeaning stereotypes, or suggests a superiority of or preference for one sex over another. The careful, thinking writer will express ideas precisely without words or expressions suggesting a sexual bias.

Check the Bias-Free Word Finder for alternatives to many gender-based words.

Substitute nonsexist words for man words and phrases.
mankind (people, humanity, human beings, human race)
man-made (synthetic, artificial, constructed, manufactured)
manpower (human resources, workers, work force)
man-size (husky, sizable, large, requiring exceptional ability)
founding fathers (pioneers, colonists, patriots, forebears, founding fathers in certain contexts)
craftsmanship (artisanry, handiwork, expertise, skill)

Assume your audience includes members of both sexes.
you and your wife (you and your spouse)
for the man on the way up (for the person or executive)
lady of the house (homemaker, consumer)

Make references to men and women equal and consistent.
John Brown and Miss Smith (John Brown and Susan Smith)
Susan and Brown (Susan and John)

Avoid using man or woman in job titles unless we are referring to a specific person whose gender has already been identified. If we already indicate in a story that the person is a male or a female, it is OK—but not required—to use a job title that also identifies his/her gender.
businessman/woman (executive, manager, entrepreneur)
chairman/woman (presiding officer, leader, moderator)
workman (laborer, employee, staff member)
foreman (supervisor, manager)
repairman/handyman (maintenance person, plumber, carpenter, electrician)
cameraman (camera operator, technician, photographer)
delivery boy (courier, messenger)
salesman (salesperson, sales clerk, sales representative)

Here are some general suggestions for avoiding sexist writing.
1. Rewrite without a gender-specific pronoun.
WRONG: Call your builder and let him handle the job.
RIGHT: Let your builder handle the job.
WRONG: If the rash persists, ask your doctor for his advice.
RIGHT: If the rash persists, consult your doctor.

2. Eliminate or find a substitute for an undesirable word.
WRONG: According to a housewives’ maxim of the day …
RIGHT: According to the maxim of the day…
WRONG: Whether you are celebrating your husband’s promotion …
RIGHT: Whether you are celebrating your spouse’s promotion…
ACCEPTABLE: Every dog-lover has his or her favorite breed.
BETTER: Every dog-lover has a favorite breed.

3. Avoid condescending descriptions.
WRONG: A petite brunette of 30 who could still pass for a coed, Marilyn has a reputation as the best trial lawyer in the state. (Looks and physical stature are not relevant to this accomplishment.)
RIGHT: At the age of 30, Marilyn has a reputation as the best trial lawyer in the state. (Age is relevant.)
OR THIS: Marilyn has a reputation as the best trial lawyer in the state. (If she is 45, her age is insignificant in relation to her accomplishment.)


Back to BHG Stylebook Table of Contents

Comments are closed.