Subject: Policy on The Use of Gender-Neutral Language
Group: Institutional
Approved by: The President
Approval date: August 15, 1989
Effective date: August 15, 1989
Administered by: Vice-President (Administration)


As an institution of higher learning dedicated to a liberal education, Mount Allison has a commitment to high standards of written and oral communication. As well, it is sensitive as an employer to the fair and equal treatment of individuals and groups. With its history in the education of women and men, it is especially aware of the importance of communication in a manner that does not reinforce questionable attitudes and assumptions about people and gender roles. It supports word choices which are not biased, discriminatory or demeaning.

2.1 Introduction
Good communication respects individual worth, dignity, integrity and capacity. It treats people equally and it expresses fairness and balance. A number of English usage handbooks, style manuals, and major publishing houses recognize the need for creating accurate, quality, non-discriminatory sentences. Using the premise that "living languages undergo continual growth and change,"². they prescribe standards for writing and evaluating manuscripts that represent people without stereotyping them.

The following guidelines have been drawn up to illustrate gender-biased language (often used quite unconsciously in day-to-day speech or more formal communication) and to recommend alternate words and phrases. Gender neutral language shall be used in all official University documents, such as policy statements and collective agreements, as well as in other University communications, including calendars, handbooks, correspondence and so forth. Day-to-day oral communication should also employ gender neutral language. The guidelines are designed to be of assistance to members of the university community in every academic situation in choosing words which are accurate, clear and free from bias.
2.2 Generic Man
The word "man" is ambiguous; it can mean either human being or the male human being. As a generic term, it has led to the misrepresentation and the exclusion of women. In finding alternatives for generic man, avoid non-parallel terms such as chairman for men and chair-person and/or person chairing for women.

Examples and alternatives

  • man — humankind, men and women, women and men, the individual, person
  • mankind — humankind, civilization
  • primitive man — primitive peoples, primitive men and women,primitive human beings, primitive society
  • man the desk — staff the desk
  • man-made — synthetic
  • man-hours — hours, working hours
  • the common man — the average person, ordinary people
  • man's achievement — human achievements
  • the best man for the — the best person for the job, the best man or woman
  • manpower — work force
  • chairman — chairperson, chair, co-ordinator, moderator, convenor
  • workman — worker
  • foreman — supervisor
  • businessman/businesswomen — business executive, entrepreneur, businessperson
  • statesmanship — diplomacy
  • spokesman — representative, spokesperson, proponent, advocate
  • salesman — salesperson, sales agent, sales representative

2.3 Generic He, His, and Him

A pronoun agrees with its antecedent in number and gender. However, since there is no neutral third-person singular pronoun, the tradition has been to use the seemingly generic "he". The linguistic discrimination implied in this use of "he" should be avoided.

a. If a professor is teaching three courses and doing research as well, he will have little time to supervise graduate theses.
Recast into plural. Professors teaching three courses and doing research as well will have little time to supervise graduate students.

b. The professor who publishes frequently will have a better chance when he goes before the tenure committee.
Eliminate unnecessary problems by rewording. The professor who publishes frequently will have a better chance when being considered by the tenure committee.

c. A faculty member and his wife may attend all arts concerts free of charge.
Revise so that the sentence does not assume that all faculty members are men. Faculty members and their spouses [guests, friends, etc.] may attend all arts concerts free of charge.

d.  If he studies hard, a student can make the Dean's List.
Address the reader. If you study hard, you can make the Dean's List.

e. A careful student consults his dictionary often.
Replace pronouns with articles. A careful student consults a dictionary often.

f.  The griever must exercise his right.
Substitute his or her, he or she, his/her or he/she for the masculine pronoun. As this method can be cumbersome, it is sometimes preferable to avoid the pronouns through reconstruction of the sentence. The griever must exercise his or her right.
2.4 Stereotypical Titles and Derivative Titles
authoress —  author
poetess — poet
sculptress — sculptor
actress — actor
career girl/woman — professor, engineer, administrative assistant, etc.
gal, girl — woman (when appropriate)
coed — student
Girl Friday — secretary, assistant, aid (better: full name)
lady/female doctor, lawyer — doctor, lawyer
freshman, freshette — first-year student
2.5 Stereotypical Adjectives and Expressions

Avoid demeaning adjectives or expressions such as:

  • weaker sex
  • frustrated spinster
  • better half
  • women's libber
  • male chauvinist pig
  • dirty old man
  • silly scribblers

Replace stereotyped adjectives and expressions, except when needed to maintain historical accuracy:

  • act like a man — be brave      
  • act like a lady — be polite      
  • Dear Sir — Dear Madam/Sir      
  • fatherland, motherland — homeland      
  • founding fathers — founders, forebears      
  • unwed mother — mother, single parent      
  • motherly — protective, supportive, kind   

2.6 Sex Role Stereotyping

Although she works, her family life has not suffered.
The Joneses share family responsibilities.

Professors have wives and children to support.
Professors have families to support.

We are looking for an administrator who is his own man.
We are looking for an administrator with a sense of independence and integrity.

2.7 Titles of Address
Because conventional titles for women — Miss, Mrs. — are linked solely to marital status or to women's relationship to men, the title "Ms.", except where a woman prefers the title Miss or Mrs., is recommended for all women when the parallel Mr. is used.

Mr. Arthur Snow and Miss Judith Mann will be at registration from noon until closing.

  • Mr. Arthur Snow and Ms. Judith Mann will be at registration from noon until closing.
  • Arthur Snow and Judith Mann...Professors Snow and Mann...

Use titles that are parallel for women and men:

Dr. Frank Parker, Miss Hilary Thompson, and Dr. Milton Way are all on the committee.

  • Drs. Parker, Thompson and Way are all on the committee (if appropriate).
  • Frank Parker, Hilary Thompson, and Milton Way are all on the committee.
  • Professors Parker, Thompson and Way...

Dr. and Mrs. John Thompson

  • John Thompson and Sally Thompson
  • John and Sally Thompson
  • Dr. John Thompson and Ms. Sally Thompson
  • Drs. John and Sally Thompson (if applicable)

She has written papers on Milton and Miss Austen.

  • She has written papers on Milton and Austen (or on John Milton and Jane Austen).

Richler and Miss Avison were invited to read from their works.

  • Richler and Avison were invited to read from their works (or Mordecai Richler and Margaret Avison...

2.8 Direct Quotations
You may want to use a direct quotation which employs the so-called generic man, for example, "Man is by nature a political animal" (Aristotle) or "My purpose was to imitate, and as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men" (Wordsworth). Is this sexist? Many people would say not, but others would distinguish between these direct quotations that are used to support statements about the particular person quoted (Wordsworth and his literary theory, for example) and those that are used to support general principles (that people are naturally political, for example). For sake of accuracy of reference it is best to use the direct quotation.

2.9 Order of Address
Women are usually given second place in expressions such as "men and women", "his and hers", "Sir and Madam" (an exception is "ladies and gentlemen"). Try alternating: "women and men", "hers and his", "her and him", "Madam and Sir".

¹For the most part these guidelines are taken with the kind permission of the author from Her and His: Language of Equal Value, A Report of the Status of Women Committee of the Nova Scotia Confederation of University Faculty Associations on Sexist Language and the University, by Wendy R. Katz, 1981. Guide to Nonsexist Language, Association of American Colleges Project on the Status and Education of Women, June 1986, provided a few additional examples.
²Jim W. Corder and Walter S. Avis, Handbook of Current English. Canadian edition (Toronto: Gage, 1979), p.4.