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. Though some uses of they with a singular antecedent or referent are well established, some uses remain contentious, and style advice varies.
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").
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Precision and clarity
Gender-neutral language should not interfere with the readers' ability to understand the material. Precision means that the reader has correctly acquired the facts. The opposite of precision is vagueness. Clarity means that the reader understands what you have written. The opposite of clarity is confusion. If the reader is confused or did not learn the material because of vagueness or circumlocutions, then the material needs to be re-written to comply with the Manual of Style's requirement for clear and precise language.
Different situations may require different approaches. For example, when speaking of isolated individuals, then pluralizing the sentences may not be the ideal solution.
- Do not omit gender when it is directly relevant: "The pregnant woman refused to be examined by a male nurse, but accepted help from a female nurse."
- Do not omit gender when the result is pointlessly vague: "Queen Elizabeth II is the mother of Charles, Prince of Wales" rather than "Queen Elizabeth II is a parent of Charles, Prince of Wales"
- Do not use gender-neutral speech when it will confuse the reader. For example, it is generally best to write about "pregnant women", rather than "pregnant men and women". Although a few pregnant adults do not self-identify as being women (e.g., some transgender and intersex people), the reader will be confused and distracted by the statement that human men can be pregnant.
- Conversely, be careful to use gender-neutral language when gendered language will confuse a typical reader. For example, avoid speaking of teachers or shop assistants as being either women (even if this occupation is mostly female in your culture) or as men (even if this occupation is mostly male in your culture).
- Do not use gender-neutral speech when it gives undue emphasis to tiny minorities. If writing about nuns, it is appropriate to use feminine language, even though there may be a nun who is also transgender. Similarly, when writing about male pregnancy, it is appropriate to use masculine language, even though most pregnancies occur in females. Use the language that is most suitable for that specific context.
- The sex and gender distinction may be helpful in choosing words for some subjects.
- Generally speaking, prefer female and male to make statements that are exclusively about anatomy and biological sex, and for writing about non-human species: "During embryonic development, the gonads are the precursors of the testes in males and ovaries in females".
- Use men, women, boys, and girls in all other situations: "Women are more likely to die from heart disease or stroke than from cancer".
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.