Re: Sexism and Pronouns

Subject: Re: Sexism and Pronouns
From: Craig Patchett <PappasWest -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 00:45:12 -0500

Kelly Mullins wrote:

> Please. Grow up. No one's denying that sexism exists, but it's the use of
> pronouns is not the place to look for it or decry it. People who do so
> make a mockery of the real problems.

Barbara Weiss responded:

>When I was a young girl, reading everything I could get my hands on, I
>remember feeling a door slam in my face every time the generic "he" was
>used. It was cruel and faceless and ubiquitous and it made me hate my
>gender. I thought that I was the only exception to the rule that women
>don't think.

(We'll just ignore my initial response :-)

As writers, our primary job is to communicate. How people receive our
communication is the essence of our livelihood. Regardless of our own
personal views on the different elements of writing, we should always
keep our focus on how the reader will interpret what we write. If they
interpret it differently than was our intention, we have failed as

As a male, I admit that the use of the generic "he" seems trivial to
me. Yet responses like Barbara's make it clear that if I am writing
to a general, mixed gender audience, I need to consider the effect
that generic pronouns have on both genders. Am I willing to alienate
part of my audience because of my own limited personal experience? No.

Someone in a previous post on a different topic pointed out that they
are successful as a tech writer because they are able to see things
from the perspective of their audience. I couldn't agree more. In fact,
I would have to say that the secret to any kind of successful relationship
with another human being (and writing is such a relationship) is the
ability to understand each other's perspective. To ignore the other's
perspective, to try to conform it to your own, or to ridicule it is to
destine the relationship to failure.

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