Badly done any
kind of language
can be ugly. But is sexism
not ugly? I listen to people saying "Suppose the man gets paid five pounds an hour, then you can calculate his weekly...", and I'm not thinking about the calculation, I'm going "Person
! Person! She's not a man
, she's a person. How do you know who this person is?"
Good language has to be natural. Good language has to be non-sexist. You have to get both those right, otherwise it's no good. The natural way of replacing the offensive 'man' is to replace it with 'person'. It's easy, it takes no thinking, no effort, no twisting. The postperson delivered this while I was out.
In some cases there may be equally natural, and shorter forms available: chair for chairperson, fisher for fisherperson. By all means use them. But don't hunt around and rack your brains for something "simpler" than postperson.
Don't complain about the language being ugly when it's the attitude that's ugly. If we can get to the point where firepeople and postpeople don't ring any bells, we've made some progress. We've done it with Negro/Coloured/Black: it's not tortured and convoluted to choose the current term there and discard ones you might have grown up with.
The simplest and best way of using invisibly gender-free language is to use "they" whenever you can. Everyone should ask themself whether they do enough in this respect. It's so easy, it's clean, natural, idiomatic, correct, everyday English, and it's very widely applicable. Only in a minority of cases can you not use plain-English "they".
What typically happens in academic writing now is not a forced switching of pronouns, but a use of "she" as a default of first choice, particularly in fields like science or mathematics where females should be encouraged to feel at home. In economics, often they use "she" for the producer and "he" for the consumer, to point out that the balance of power doesn't have to be as it is.
An engrained male default is sexism pure and simple. Equality is attainable. Just get used to it, and do it. There is no alternative.
In a subsequent post now deleted, taschenrechner
made a point about languages that have grammatical gender. In a gendered
language like Russian or French a word, any word, for "writer" or "teacher" must perforce be masculine
. English does not have this problem. In English we have gender-neutral
terms "author", "poet" etc. What is then objectionable
, just as in Russian, is to use unnecessary female forms authoress
. Authors are not male. Jane Austen
was an author, Emily Dickinson
was a poet. The -ess
form tends to be dismissive: a good poet, as female poets go.
Another reply (I shouldn't be doing this). Anyone who was "taught" that they
is just plural was taught badly. They have inherited a wrong, pedantic, recent tradition with no basis in fact or practice. Singular they
is used comfortably by, among many many others: Chaucer, Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Swift, Defoe, Fielding, Goldsmith, Jane Austen, Dickens, Scott, George Eliot, Thackeray, Byron, Shelley, Stevenson, Trollope, Mrs Gaskell, Ruskin, Whitman, Shaw, Wilde, Kipling, Wells, Fitzgerald, Wharton, and Orwell. It is
and always has been
standard, normal, correct English