"We must be able to adapt the way we communicate."

By River Solace | insta river.solace

Why is it so Important?

According to the United Nations, using gender-inclusive language means, "speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes".

Gendered language is ingrained in our vocabulary and is used regularly in our day-to-day interactions.

"Given the key role of language in shaping cultural and social attitudes, using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias."

The Influence of the Patriarchy

"Man up!" or "Grow a pair!" As the great Betty White once said, "Why do people say 'grow some balls'? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina." But we shouldn't have to bring up genitalia at all in order to tell someone to have courage. We can simply say: "Be bold" or "Be courageous".

"Throw like a girl" or "Scream like a girl". Comparing an action with "...like a girl" implies someone is weaker, inferior or lesser by reinforcing gender stereotypes.

"Sweetheart" or "Darling" can come off as patronising terms often in the case when they are used by men towards women and femmes.


The Redundancy of the Terms 'womxn' and 'folx'

Womxn is an umbrella term that risks misrepresenting Trans and Non-Binary people.

Grouping all Non-Binary folks as womxn is not okay. Whilst some Non-Binary people may be okay with this, many want to escape the gender binary so automatically being placed with women can be triggering.

By using the term 'womxn', some say the implications are that Trans women are not real women. Placing an 'x' as a signifier of including Trans women only accentuates the issue of othering trans women in the first place.

Folks is already a gender inclusive term thus rendering the term 'folx' unnecessary. Adding an 'x' to the word does not always make it more inclusive. Lumping marginalised people together can often be more reductive than inclusive.

Who are you addressing?:

  • People that are harmed by the patriarchy
  • People that menstruate
  • People with vaginas
  • Femmes
  • Trans and Non-Binary people

Then say that!

Language is Complicated

Language is always evolving. The words that we used last year might not be appropriate anymore or we may have come to learn the harm that they cause. We may find better alternatives. We must be able to adapt the way we communicate.

Language will always be complicated. Patience is key. We should be able to identify as we feel and whatever words/labels align with us. E.g. some marginalised genders might feel that the terms 'womxn' or 'folx' do represent them.

Words and terms will always be subjective to each person's identity. Always best to ask!

The Harmful Nature of Gendered Language

When someone has been to the doctors, do you instinctively ask 'what did he say?' Or your friend says they have a new boss and you ask 'what's he like?' The influence of the patriarchy runs deep. We have been surrounded by these notions that certain roles and jobs are typically for men. These assumptions about gender are routed into our subconscious and it can be hard to break the habit. However it is essential that we do, otherwise it only perpetuates these outdated gender stereotypes.

The act of assuming someone's gender can be harmful, whether it is intentional or not. If you misgender someone, say "my mistake, thank you for correcting me" and move on. Do not profusely apologise as this is uncomfortable and can make someone feel like they have to tell you it's okay. This applies to pronouns and name changes too.

A Non-Binary person doesn't need to be present for you to use gender-inclusive language or avoid gendered language. Remember to hold others accountable. Gently remind them that the terms are not inclusive or even better, provide them with alternatives to use and practise. 

Practise gender inclusive language regardless of the company you are in so that it becomes a habit. Everyone wants to be included, to feel like they belong. Gendered language can be alienating and ultimately it is exclusive.

Here are some gender inclusive alternatives.

Relational Terms

Woman/Man    Human/Adult
Girl/Boy Child
Wife/Husband    Partner/Spouse
Girlfriend/Boyfriend Partner/Lover/Joyfriend
Mother/Father Parent/Guardian
Daughter/Son Child
Sister/Brother Sibling
Aunt/Uncle Pibling (Parent's sibling)
Niece/Nephew Nibling
Miss/Mrs/Mr Mx
Maiden name Family name
She/Her/Hers They/Them/Theirs
He/Him/His They/Them/Theirs
Mankind Humankind
Goddess/God Deity

Professional Terms

Policeman Police Officer
Salesman Sales Person
Sportsman Athlete
Actress/ Actor Performer
Headmistress/Headmaster Headteacher
Waitress/Waiter Server
Stewardess Flight Attendant
Businessman Business Person
Chairman Chair
Man-made Artificial
Man the desk Staff the desk
Manpower Workforce
Landlord Owner
Princess/Prince/Queen/King Monarch/Ruler

Addressing Groups  

"Hey guys!" has been a way to address a group of people for a long time. Some people would argue these terms are generic and apply to everyone, but then why are the so-called generic terms always masculine?

In some languages, when referring to a group of people, unless they are all women, it is masculine. E.g. in French even if a group of 1000 people contains 1 man, the pronoun is still masculine. Using 'guys' subconsciously addresses one specific gender and misgenders everyone else. Some people might consider it to be inclusive, but there are so many better alternatives.

"Ladies and Gentlemen" is one of the most common ways to address the room in a more formal setting. What is wrong with '"Good morning/ Good evening everyone"? What about "distinguished guests"? By gendering the people in the room, it is automatically alienating Non-Binary folks. 

Some less serious alternatives have come about that appear to be more inclusive such as 'girls, gays and theys', but this example is based on the assumption that all Non-Binary people use They/Them pronouns which is not true. Using blanket terms that still gender people in some way isn't ideal.

There are some fun alternatives to try like "Theydies and Gentlethem" or "guys, gals and Non-Binary pals". But can we avoid gendered greetings altogether? Is there a way to address a group of people without gender playing a role?

Gender Inclusive Greetings

Loving greetings Nature-related Food-related Friends Neutral
beautiful humans flowers nuggets pals people
angels petals sweeties mates folks
my loves sunshines beans gang crew
dears light warriors pumpkins companions team
lovelies earthlings sweet potatoes comrades distinguished guests

Extra Reading

Teen Vogue: How to Use Gender-Neutral Words

United Nations: Gender Inclusive Language

14 Gender Inclusive Terms to Adopt in 2022

Gender Inclusive Language: The New Normal


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