|While this essay is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline itself, it is intended to supplement the Wikipedia:Manual of Style's Gender-neutral language subsection, to which editors should defer in case of inconsistency between that page and this one.|
Gender-neutral language (Gender neutrality in English) avoids constructions that might be interpreted by some readers as an unnecessary reinforcement of traditional stereotypes. Gender-neutral language does not inherently convey a particular viewpoint, political agenda or ideal. Examples of non-neutral language that can often be easily avoided are:
- a masculine or feminine pronoun to refer to a generic or hypothetical person;
- man to stand for both genders in general, either as a separate item (man's greatest discoveries), a prefix (mankind, manmade), or a suffix (businessman, fireman);
- uncommon gender-marked terms (conductress, career woman, male nurse, aviatrix), with the possible implication that the participation of the subject's gender is uncommon, unexpected or somehow inappropriate;
- non-parallel expressions (man and wife rather than husband and wife). Another example of lack of parallelism would be the use, in the same article, of first names for women and last names for men, unless the people involved have a documented preference in this regard.
The Manual of Style section on gender-neutral language states, "Use gender-neutral language where this can be done with clarity and precision." Situations this does not apply to include:
- direct quotations (e.g. "All men are created equal" should not be altered to "All people are created equal");
- the titles of works (e.g. A Man on the Moon should not be altered to A Human Being on the Moon);
- proper names of things (e.g. Craftsmen Industries should not be altered to Artisan Industries);
- cases where all referents are of one gender (e.g. when talking about an all-female school it is unnecessary to alter "If any student broke that rule, she was severely punished" to "Any student who broke the rule was severely punished");
- when the subject prefers a gendered term. This includes a woman preferring a masculine term, for example: "From 1998 to 2000, she [Esther Dyson] was the founding chairman (not chairwoman or chairperson) of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.".
There are a number of ways of avoiding the use of generic masculine and feminine pronouns; the following are examples.
- Pluralising (not "A player starts by taking up his position", but "Players start by taking up their positions"), although this can be problematic where the text needs to emphasize individuals, or where it creates a need to switch regularly between singular and plural.
- Using he or she ("Each politician is responsible for his or her constituency"), although this can be ungainly if repeated within a short space.
- Otherwise rewording (not "A pilot must keep his spacepod under control at all times; if he loses control, he must hit 'new game' immediately", but "A pilot must keep the spacepod under control at all times; if that control is lost, the pilot must hit 'new game' immediately").
There is no Wikipedia consensus either for or against the singular they ("Each politician is responsible for their constituency"). Although it is widely used in informal writing and speech, its acceptability in formal writing is disputed.
Some methods of avoiding generic masculine pronouns, such as the use of the pronouns "one" or (especially) "you", are seen as unencyclopedic and are thus discouraged in Wikipedia articles.
Gendered nouns and adjectives
Non-neutral usage can sometimes be avoided by careful word choice; for example, by using people or humanity (instead of man), layperson (layman), police officer (policeman), business owners or professional (businessmen); in these cases, ensure that the basic meaning is preserved. Where the gender is known, gender-specific items are also appropriate ("Bill Gates is a businessman" or "Nancy Pelosi is a congresswoman").
Ships may be referred to either using feminine pronouns ("she", "her") or neuter pronouns ("it", "its"). Either usage is acceptable, but each article should be internally consistent and employ one or the other exclusively. As with all optional styles, articles should not be changed from one style to another unless there is a substantial reason to do so.