I recently attended a session on 'Gender sensitivity in writing'. With all due respect to the speaker and the topic, I, as a kinda professional writer (or writeress?) fail to understand why so much was being read into this issue.
The basic proposition of the speaker (this is a neutral word, isnt it?) was:
"Nonsexist language allows you and your reader to focus on what people do rather than which sex they happen to be. Using "he" and "man" as generic terms does not represent reality today. Research has shown that the average reader tends to visualize a male when reading "he" or "man". You can't expect your reader to think of a woman if you talk about a "salesman." If you inadvertently come across as sexist, part of your audience could feel insulted or offended, and will not even try to understand what you are saying. Using "he" as a generic pronoun can be misleading in certain contexts. Your audience may be confused and think that you are only referring to the male members of whatever group you are referring to."
The speaker went on to give strategiesd to avoid such 'sexist' stuff to the extent of saying:
"Use a mixture of male and female names in scenarios and examples.
You can then refer to John as "he" and Mary as "she". Beware of stereotyping the senior person as the male and the subordinate person as the female, but don't use reverse stereotyping for everyone either. Also be careful when the situation clearly cannot include both sexes E.g. In a medical text discussing pregnancy, the doctor can be either male or female, but the patient is always female."
(Please! Give me a break. What are we all, dumbwits/fools/mentally handicapped.... what?)
For one I see no reason why it should be such a big issue. I mean so what if I write "the baby was crying and so his mother petted him"? Why should the use of 'his' and 'him' matter so much so long as the point is being communicated. We have grown up with the language being used in a particular manner and for all practical purposes using 'him', 'his' and the like is more a matter of convenience than wanting to appear or being a 'sexist' and offending the other sex. Insteasd, using 'gender sensitive' tactics like writing plural, he/she, s/he, etc. is a rather clumsy way of putting things and would definitely make my copy look messy. Neither do I see any reason why using 'his/him' would make it difficult for the audience to comprehend and relate to the content. How many of us really even give a thought to whether the use of words is sexist or not to be in effect offended by it and focus on the sexist nature of the content rather than the meaning of the content itself? (how many of us actually focus on the content in the first place?)
How many of you would be offended if I say "the reader should kindly put in his comment for further dicussions about the issue"?