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This page is not intended as an "official HCoop policy or position." Rather, it is an attempt by some of the members to call attention to issues of how our language reflects and reproduces gender norms that exist in our society, and to disseminate information that may help those who agree with the ideas in this page (if not the exact manner in which they have been articulated) to write in a manner that is more gender-neutral. In addition, since some members disagree with the ideas in this page, dissenters may voice their opinions on this page as well.

1. Reasons for Using Gender-Neutral Language

For many in the Cooperative, language is not merely a tool that we use, but one which reproduces the structures of power in our society. Gender inequality, as one of these social forms of power, is also reproduced through language. Because of this, many members of the Cooperative feel strongly that we consider carefully how gender bias creeps into our everyday languages, including the communication between members of the Cooperative and externally.

1.1. Tips on Writing in a Gender-Neutral Style

Generally, many of the arguments for gender-neutral language have led those who advocate its use to prefer gender-neutral instead of gender-specific pronouns when discussing a person whose gender is unknown, when the person prefers to not categorize themself as belonging to a specific gender, or when a group of individuals is of mixed gender.

For example, in the English language, many who try to write in a gender-neutral manner prefer the use of "their" instead of "his" or "her". Despite claims of some that this is gramatically "wrong" when referring to a single subject, sites listed in the references section of this document point out that this usage of "their" has a long history that precedes many of the political reasons for the use of the term today.

Recently, many writers in the English language have tried to make their writing more gender-neutral by such techniques as alternating the use of "she" and "he" in their texts. However, it is important to note that by alternating the usage of "her" and "his" in writing, the traditional dichotomization of gender is still preserved. For many who feel displaced or otherwise uncomfortable about the discrete categories that have been constructed in societal discourse, it may be more comfortable to use the gender-neutral term "their", even to refer to a singular subject.

It should also be noted that the exclusive use of "his", while occasionally said to be "gender-neutral", is really not. Clearly, it is a product of a patriarchial society, and remains strongly tied to that tradition. Further, it is important to note how even claiming that "he" is gender-neutral has a tendency to naturalize our understanding of the concept, thereby giving it a certain sort of transcendental status. It is important to realize that the social understanding of "his" as a neutral term is a social creation, as is language itself, and therefore reflects the unequal relationships that we have developed in society.

While it is likely that the exact terms to be used in gender-neutral writing will remain in debate for a long time, there are some practices that seem to be favored, such as using "their" in place of "his" or "her". Many feel that this is an improvement even to the practice of alternating "his" or "her" in writing as it leaves space for people who feel marginalized by the binary categories of gender that exist in society (e.g., perhaps some transgender individuals who don't feel comfortable either as "men" or "women", as these cultural roles are often understood).

1.2. Arguments Against Gender-Neutral Language

Some members have expressed that they disagreed with elements on this page. This section attempts to articulate these points where people disagree with gender-neutral language in general, or some of the ways that implementation of gender-neutral language have been suggested.

1.3. Historical versions of this page

Previous comments from this page have been archived at the page HistoricalGenderNeutralLanguage for clarity of the ideas presented on this section of the site.

GenderNeutralLanguage (last edited 2013-01-17 07:16:33 by RobinTempleton)