In most cases of web content, the person’s gender is not relevant to the story you are telling. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If you happen to be writing for a women’s website on the subject of menopause, then gender is certainly relevant. Should you not be writing for a website which is specifically geared to one gender or another, then focusing on one gender or the other can seem very sexist. Unfortunately, many of the descriptive words we use have gender bias built right in, such as “fireman,” or “actress.” Even a decade or so ago writers were instructed to implement the generic masculine terms, but in today’s world these words can seem dated or biased. There are ways to incorporate gender-neutral words into your content without using the clumsy “he or she.”
Generally speaking, if you are talking about men or boys, then use “he, his and him,” and likewise use “she, her and hers” when talking about females. However if you are writing a sentence such as “Each lawyer must take his bar exam,” this is a case of using a masculine pronoun in a generic manner. While you could write that sentence as “Each lawyer must take his or her bar exam,” this feels awkward. You could also use the vague their as in “Each lawyer must take their bar exam,” but this is somewhat controversial from a grammatical standpoint. In order to avoid making these choices regarding pronouns which tie to one gender or another, try using the authoritative style of the verb instead. Use the second person you or your rather than the third person gender-specific pronouns he, his, she and her. In this case the sentence becomes “In order to become a lawyer you must take your bar exam,” and completely eliminates gender-specific wording.
Other Strategies for Keeping Your Content Gender-Neutral
The next tip for gender-neutral content is to change your nouns and pronouns to the plural form. Rather than writing “Each intern should mail his or her resume’ to the human resource department,” or “Each intern should mail their resume’ to the human resource department,” why not try it this way: Interns should mail their resume’s to human resources.” You have said the same thing, but in a much more concise and gender-neutral manner. Another way of keeping your content gender-neutral consists of repeating the noun, particularly if it will clarify the meaning of your sentence or eliminate the pronoun altogether.
Why Should You Care About Keeping Content Gender-Neutral?
Your goal is to convey information to your readers in a form they can both understand and use, avoiding anything which hinders clear communication. Should any part of your targeted audience find themselves insulted, offended or confused by the manner in which you express yourself through your writing then the understanding of your message could be derailed. While the process of using gender-neutral writing may feel like a relatively low-priority issue, ensuring your content is complete and correct is not a low-priority issue. Whenever possible, bypass the entire gender issue, and when it is not possible use masculine pronouns only for men and boys and feminine pronouns only for women and girls. A little practice in keeping your content gender-neutral will allow you to use these tips without thinking twice about it.