Friday, December 11, 2015

Gender Neutral words

Every now and then writers tie themselves in knots over the issue of gender specific terms.

“Suffragette”, for instance, has historic imagery tied to it of women fighting for the right to be allowed to vote. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of cartoons and stories explaining why women were considered not physically or mentally capable of deciding which political candidate to choose. So when a writer uses the word “suffragette” readers get a visual of a specific time in history and all the baggage that went with it.

(Just as an aside here, women first attained the right to vote in South Australia in 1895, and all Australian states permitted it by 1908, a long time before the USA – 1920).

Other female word forms, however, such as Chaucer’s herdess and charmeress, and Shakespeare’s soldieress, have long gone.

Even “waitress” and “stewardess” along with “executrix” mostly disappeared in the 1970s.

My advice would be always to use gender neutral terms, unless you are aiming to give the reader a particular image, such as those of the suffragettes.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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