A new member of Jose Carillo‚Äôs English Forum who uses the username Miss Mae asked me this very interesting question a few days ago:
‚ÄúI just would like to know your opinion about using both ‚Äėhe‚Äô and ‚Äėshe‚Äô as pronouns for a third-person subject. Some media outfits still use only ‚Äėhe‚Äô when the third-person subject is unknown, and I‚Äôm still getting you-must-be-a-feminist stare whenever I decide to just use ‚Äėshe‚Äô in some of my writings. What should I keep in mind?‚ÄĚHere‚Äôs my reply to Miss Mae:
The English language indeed has an inherent gender bias, particularly in the conventional use of the male pronouns ‚Äúhe,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúhim,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúhis‚ÄĚ when the antecedent is a noun of indefinite gender, as in ‚ÄúA trustworthy lawyer
who respects confidences,‚ÄĚ or an indefinite pronoun like ‚Äúeveryone‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúeverybody,‚ÄĚ as in ‚ÄúEveryone
is entitled to his
opinion.‚ÄĚ The easy way out is, of course, to use the ‚Äúhe or she‚ÄĚ form, as in ‚ÄúA trustworthy lawyer
is he or she
who respects confidences,‚ÄĚ or the ‚Äúhis or her‚ÄĚ form, as in ‚ÄúEveryone
is entitled to his or her
opinion.‚ÄĚ This is fine if you‚Äôll use the ‚Äúhe or she‚ÄĚ form or ‚Äúhis or her‚ÄĚ form only once or at most twice in a typical page of written work, but it could grate on the reader‚Äôs nerves when repeated several times.
I must tell you frankly, though, that you would be gender-biased yourself in favor of women‚ÄĒand deserve to get that you-must-be-a-feminist stare‚ÄĒif you habitually use the ‚Äúshe‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúher‚ÄĚ form when referring to antecedents of indefinite gender, as in ‚ÄúA trustworthy lawyer
who respects confidences‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúEveryone
is entitled to her
opinion.‚ÄĚ Both forms do look and sound like you‚Äôre rubbing it in against men, so I‚Äôd suggest that you confine such usage only when you‚Äôre in the company of an all-female group like, say, the Women Lawyers League.
A much better and more politic way of dealing with gender bias is to avoid it in your writing and speech as best you can. For the same situations in the sentences taken up above, you can do the following: 1. Use ‚Äúone‚ÄĚ instead of ‚Äúhe‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúshe‚ÄĚ:
‚ÄúA trustworthy lawyer
who respects confidences.‚ÄĚ Or pluralize the antecedent noun to avoid making a gender choice: ‚ÄúTrustworthy lawyers
who respect confidences.‚ÄĚ2. Pluralize the antecedent indefinite pronoun to avoid making a gender choice:
are entitled to their
One more thing: You need to be extra-sensitive to the need to avoid gender bias even in less obviously gender-skewed sentence constructions. For example, you need to cultivate the art of avoiding writing or saying, ‚ÄúEverybody
is enjoined to bring his wife
to the club picnic this weekend.‚ÄĚ The gender-bias-free construction for that sentence is, of course, ‚ÄúAll
are enjoined to bring their spouses
to the club picnic this weekend.‚ÄĚ (2010)TEST YOURSELF ON ANOTHER GRAMMAR MATTER:
Another member of the English Forum‚ÄĒcomputer chair is his or her user name‚ÄĒsent me the item below from an English-proficiency test and asked me to analyze the answer choices. See if you can figure out the correct answer and explain why it‚Äôs correct and the others, wrong. In each of the following sentences, part of the sentence or the entire sentence is underlined. Beneath each sentence you will find five ways of phrasing the underlined part. Choose the best answer.
‚ÄúOutsourcing jobs to a consulting firm in another country is more cost-effective than paying employees locally, but overwhelmingly negative are its effects on customer satisfaction
(A) overwhelmingly negative are its effects on customer satisfaction
(B) it has overwhelmingly negative customer satisfaction effects
(C) in its customer satisfaction effects it is overwhelmingly negative
(D) there are the overwhelmingly negative effects in customer satisfaction
(E) its effects on customer satisfaction are overwhelmingly negative
I invite you to share your analysis of that sentence and your best answer by posting it on my Facebook Gateway or directly in the Forum discussion board that follows this essay.
----------------------------This essay, 696th of the series, first appeared in the weekly column ‚ÄúEnglish Plain and Simple‚ÄĚ by Jose A. Carillo in the June 26, 2010 issue of
The Manila Times, ¬© 2010 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.