Pronouns and Non-Specific Genders
We all know that for eons, the masculine pronoun was used when faced with these questions. It was the accepted unspoken rule.
If a writer needed to use a pronoun for a non-specific gender, he would use “he.” No one gave it a second thought. But, times have changed . . . is this strategy still acceptable?
Of late, it seems many writers are unsure of the correct pronoun to use. Many of us, including me, use a number of different pronouns when faced with this situation. As an example, let me backtrack a bit first and explain how I use to tackle this dilemma.
My Old Strategy of Referencing a Non-Specific Gender
When I wrote a sentence, and realized I was referencing a non-specific genre, I’d write “he/she,” “he and she,” or “he or she.” More often I would revise the sentence to avoid having to be in this situation. But, I was never sure if what I was doing was correct.
For example, I might write the following: When a child suffers with allergies, he/she should be seen by his/her doctor.
Trying not to fall into the old masculine pronoun strategy or having a clunky looking sentence, I would try to use both genders or eliminate the problem.
To eliminate the problem, I'd change the sentence to: When children suffer with allergies, they should be seen by their doctor.
While this works well, sometimes you need to reference “a child,” or “an adult.” Not all sentences can be fixed by changed the noun to plural. Working through these problems took time and thought.
But the days of guessing are gone . . . we now have a clear cut strategy to use.
The New Protocol for Referencing a Non-Specific Gender
We have finally progressed beyond the old standard protocol of tackling this situation with a masculine pronoun.
Now, using either the feminine or masculine pronoun is allowed and even encouraged. It’s actually fine to use whatever you want, even “he/she.” But, again we want to avoid the clunky looking sentence.
According to a post in Writer’s Digest, Questions and Quandaries, using either “he” or “she” throughout an article or post is perfectly acceptable. Another method is to alternate between “he” and “she” within the same article or post. I guess we can now be called equal opportunity pronoun gender writers.
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