Do you know how to use these gender-neutral pronouns?

Writing for the mass media is serious business. You need to be abreast of emerging trends in the society in order to adapt your writing style and choice of words, phrases and examples to effectively connect with the audience. The world has made giant strides towards inclusivity, and language plays a big part in that. So while writing feature articles for the mass media creativity is not just required but words which reflect evolving developments in the society might be very essential in recognizing the heterogeneous nature of the audience, especially in terms of gender demographics.

One of the issues factored into mass media writing in modern times is recognition of gender inbetweens in the society. This refers to those who have a different gender identities other than the widely accepted gender binaries – male and female. These non-binary gender identities could be transgender, agender, bigender, transsexual, among others. This means generalizing gender identities as ‘he’ or ‘she’ is quickly becoming old fashioned. What is now becoming the norm is the use of gender-neutral pronouns. This is probably in recognition of gender neutral identity as part of the modern world. Even some referencing styles guides in research such as the very popular and widely accepted American Psychological Association (APA) style guide has introduced gender neutral citation format in its 7th edition.

The use of gender neutral pronouns might not yet be a strict requirement in writing for the mass media in most African countries which still insist on recognizing only binary gender forms (male and female). However, understanding how to use the gender-neutral writing format is not a bad idea at all.

What is gender-neutral pronoun?

Gender-neutral pronouns are words that don’t specify whether the subject of the sentence is female or male. A typical example of gender-neutral pronoun is ‘They’. This is a third-person pronoun that is gender neutral. Other common gender-neutral pronouns include ‘them’, ‘this person’, or ‘everyone’. Where you are not quite sure which pronoun to use, you can also use that person’s name.

Since gender-neutral pronouns have only recently become more commonplace, it’s possible you may not know exactly how to use them, or even what they are. We’ve made an attempt here to show you what gender-neutral pronouns are and how to use them. This could help you start writing articles with a more inclusive outlook for various segments of the audience in terms of diverse gender demographics.

How to use gender-neutral pronouns

Using gender-neutral pronouns comes with a few benefits. Caroline Forsey identifies two key benefits of using gender neutral pronouns; First, in the English language, “He” has often been used as an automatic fill-in for generic individuals. By using gender-neutral language, you’re ensuring your sentences are inclusive for everyone. Second, “he and she” are two extreme binaries that don’t leave room for other gender identities. This can be hurtful for individuals, such as transgender or gender queer communities, who don’t identify with “he” or “she”.

Using gender neutral pronouns prevents you from making incorrect or hurtful assumptions about someone’s gender. As Caroline Forsey observes, just because someone appears feminine or masculine doesn’t mean they are a man or woman — they could be agender, nonbinary, or uncomfortable identifying with “he” or “she”.

It is better to use more traditional gender neutral pronouns in your everyday conversation, or writing, regardless of the individual or group of individuals you are targeting as audiences. These include “Them”, “They”, “Their”, “Everyone”, and “That Person”. When in doubt, it is better to refer to someone by their name, rather than “him” or “her”. This makes your article more inclusive, especially while writing for audience in the western world.

“They” is one of the more common gender-neutral pronouns, and it’s easy to incorporate into your writings and daily conversations. Here are some examples of how to use it:

  • “I asked the lecturer to explain further and they agreed to do so.”
  • “I noticed that someone left their mobile phone in my office.”
  • “I don’t know who took my bag by mistake but I intend to wait for them to return it.”

Even when you are aware that someone identifies as “he’ or “she” you still use “they” “them” and “their” often in your everyday language. It’s a natural substitute, but can go a long way towards creating a more inclusive office culture or social atmosphere.

Finally!

Writing a feature article or any other form of mass media writing requires that you consider evolving trends in the society in order to accommodate various segments of the audience. At least, that is the emerging practice in the western world. Using gender-neutral pronouns is not difficult at all so it’s something you can easily do while writing. Even if you are working in a developing society where gender non-binaries are not legally recognized, using gender-neutral pronouns in your articles could create a warmer, more inclusive piece for every segment of the audience.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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