Suggestions for Using Gender-Neutral Nouns

author
I define a sexist noun as one that unnecessarily calls attention to a person's sex.   Why is that a problem?   It's because the noun suggests without basis that a person's sex is relevant to the identified role.  That can marginalize, trivialize, or demean women. 

            For example, a word like "actress" marginalizes female performers, making them seem different from the norm of "actors."  Recognizing this problem, many female performers now refer to themselves as "actors."  Similarly, a judge I knew attempted to trivialize women lawyers by calling them "lawyeresses."  And the terms "bachelor" and "spinster" demean single women by connoting that a bachelor is a desirable companion, while a spinster has simply failed at attracting a man.    

            With a little effort, a writer can adopt more gender-neutral language.  Here is a partial list of substitutes for sexist nouns:

 

Sexist noun

Nonsexist substitute

actress

actor

chairman, chairwoman

chair

comedienne

comedian

executrix

executor; personal representative

fireman

firefighter

newsman

newscaster; reporter

poetess

poet

policeman, policewoman

police officer

saleswoman

salesperson

stewardess

flight attendant

testatrix

testator

waiter, waitress

server

weatherman

weather forecaster

 

           Gendered kin-terms fall into in a different category.  "Mother" and "father" are appropriate because they convey parents' distinct biological roles.  Even "sister," "brother," "aunt," and "uncle" still remain appropriate.  Thus I would not avoid the gendered word "uncle" by writing an absurdity like "My parent's sibling came for dinner on Sunday."  And although there seems to be less reason to distinguish between "King" and "Queen," I continue to use these terms.  Referring to "the ruler and the ruler's spouse" seems disturbingly sterile. 

                                      --The Word Aficionado