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Bias-Free Language

Sometimes the language we use reflects our stereotypes. While in speech our facial expressions or even gestures may convince our listeners that we are not being offensive, in writing it is a lot harder to do.

To avoid confusion and needless anger on the part of the reader, use language that is clear, objective, and stereotype-free. Avoid making generalizations when talking about gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or people with disabilities.

Rule to Remember

Avoid using masculine nouns when the gender of the person is not known.

Gender

Avoid using masculine pronouns when the gender of the person is not known:

Biased Each consultant has to submit his project proposal before the next team meeting.

Unbiased Each consultant has to submit his or her project proposal before the next team meeting.

Unbiased All consultants have to submit their project proposals before the next team meeting.

Refer to Pronoun Agreement and Pronouns in the Grammar section of this tutorial to learn how to avoid gender biased use of pronouns.

When a word has the suffix -man or -woman, check to see if it reflects the gender of the person described. Use more neutral alternatives when gender is not important to the idea you are getting across. For example, use chairperson or chair instead of chairman, fire fighter instead of fireman, or sales person instead of salesman.

Here is a list of occupational terms that can be problematic:

Avoid Use Instead
anchorman anchor
businessman businessperson, executive, manager, business owner, retailer, etc.
cleaning lady, girl, maid housecleaner, housekeeper, cleaning person, office cleaner
clergyman member of the clergy, rabbi, priest, etc.
congressman representative, member of Congress, legislator
forefather ancestor
housewife homemaker
insurance man insurance agent
mailman, postman mail or letter carrier
policeman police officer or law enforcement officer
spokesman spokesperson, representative
stewardess, steward flight attendant
weatherman weather reporter, weathercaster, meteorologist

Random House "Sensitive Language"

Race and Ethnicity

If race or ethnicity is used to describe a person, it has to be relevant to the information presented.

Ethnic and racial labels often change and deciding which term is the correct one can be hard. Should we say African American or black? Hispanic or Latino/Latina? American Indian or Native American? And is Asian the preferred term?

As Hult and Huckin state: "The best rule of thumb is to call people by whatever term they prefer, just as you should pronounce their personal name however they want it pronounced. If you are unsure of what to use to describe a certain group of people, just ask members of that group" (725-726).

Rule to Remember

When unsure about how to refer to a group of people, ask the representatives of that group how they prefer to be referred to.

Disability

Labels are often generated when we use adjectives as collective nouns. Avoid using labels the disabled, the schizophrenics; instead, use people with disabilities, people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The APA Manual of Style also recommends using emotionally neutral expressions when describing people with disabilities: a person with AIDS rather than an AIDS victim, a person with emphysema rather than a person suffering from emphysema (76).

Sexual Orientation

According Random House's Sensitive Language, "The term homosexual to describe a man or woman is increasingly replaced by the terms gay for men and lesbian for women." Therefore, the following terms are preferred to make the meaning clear: lesbians, gay men, bisexual men or women. (http://www.randomhouse.com/words/language/)

The important thing to remember is to be sensitive, clear, and unbiased when describing any particular group of people.

Rule to Remember

In writing use language that is clear, objective, and stereotype-free.