Gender Equality in Everyday Language & Tips on Writing More Inclusive Content
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
Whether it’s a trending hashtag or not, gender inclusion is and should be a big topic, especially in our modern and seemingly open-minded global society. This blog post shares some terminology on gender (based on socially constructed features) / sex (characteristics that are biologically defined). It also includes other language examples, particularly German, to illustrate the use of gender. Lastly, this article provides actionable tips on how businesses can adapt their written content to address all identities.
After all, no one should ever feel excluded or singled out in general and especially when trying to market a product or service.
I recently came across a German into English review job at work.
The German text read:
Aus Gründen der leichteren Lesbarkeit wird in der vorliegenden Broschüre die gewohnte männliche Sprachform bei personenbezogenen Substantiven und Pronomen verwendet.
In English, it said:
The customary male language form is used in the present brochure for personal nouns and pronouns for the purpose of easier readability.
I left the following comment as a suggestion:
Consider adding: ‘Nevertheless, a male, female, and non-binary audience is addressed.’
I knew it probably couldn’t take into account every single gender, sex, and identity – but it was still more inclusive than before. This made me think: Surely there must be a better way. How can it be that this text excludes certain members of society simply for the benefit of better readability?
Women being singled out in modern-day language
You may know the online shopping platform “Nasty Gal” founded by Sophia Amoruso. Back in 2014, she published a book called #GIRLBOSS, and the term girl boss took off from there. Its original purpose was to empower women, particularly entrepreneurs and business owners, to make them feel proud and strong. Related terms include:
👠 She shed, the counterpart to man cave
👠 SheEO, a combination of she and CEO (a variation of girl boss; also: boss babe)
👠 Shero, the counterpart to hero to avoid confusion with the previously common word heroine which sounds like the drug heroin
The question remains (for now): Is it necessary to emphasise the girl or she-part? Does it even come off as patronising? Wouldn’t boss (from the Dutch word baas = master) simply suffice? After all, everyone can be a boss, chief, or whichever word you choose, regardless of gender.
The use of they & other gender-neutral pronouns
By its very nature, English is already more gender-neutral than many other languages in that it doesn’t assign masculine or feminine articles to nouns.
The use of they has become increasingly popular and is a ‘safe’ and often obvious choice, for instance:
German: Er oder sie hat ein Recht auf Datenlöschung.
English: He or she has a right to deletion of data. → They have a right to deletion of data.
Famous historic authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Jane Austen already made use of the singular they in their literature as early as the 14th century.
“[G]ender-neutral pronouns are no longer merely a way to describe an unspecified person, but also a way to affirm the identities of queer, transgender, intersex and non-binary people.” - Babbel Magazine
German is among the less progressive languages
While English often resorts to the use of they to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes, German language lags behind in that regard. Here are some (fairly new and likely still unknown) alternative German options that aim to eliminate the need for assigning genders that may gain in popularity in the years to come:
✍ Xier to replace er/sie (a personal pronoun, Engl.: he/she)
Example sentence: “Anna Heger wurde 1978 in Berlin geboren. Xier denkt seit 2009 über alternative deutsche Grammatik nach. Auf xiesem Blog veröffentlicht xier auch emanzipatorische und/oder biographische Comicgeschichten.“
✍ Dier to replace der/die (an article and relative pronoun, Engl.: the, which already does NOT specify any gender)
✍ Xies to replace sein/ihr (possessive pronoun, Engl.: his/her)
Another linguistic system to avoid gender specifications in German, that was recently introduced to me by my German acquaintance Amalia Voigt, uses the following:
✍ The suffix -on for titles, e.g.
Bürger*innen (Engl.: citizens; the * indicates both male and female citizens) → Bürgeron (refers to all citizens, regardless of gender/sex/identity)
✍ The article del, e.g.
del Bürgeron (Engl.: the citizens), del Studenton (Engl.: the students)
If you’re interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please click here.
German is not the only language that could do with catching up in terms of gender-neutrality. Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, or French have similar issues in this regard. Let’s take a look at a French example provided to me by my French friend and colleague Roxane Hugues:
English: Yes, I consent to being re-contacted regarding a change of processing within this project.
French: Oui, je consens à être recontacté(e) en cas de modification du traitement à un stade ultérieur du projet.
The recontacté(e) indicates a distinction between male and female (added e) form.
An option to make this sentence more gender-neutral would be to switch from the passive to the active voice: “Oui, je consens à ce que l’entreprise commanditaire me recontacte…’’
This way, no specific gender is pointed out, however, it would be up to the writer to guess the subject of the sentence (although this would be secondary information).
What businesses can do to write more gender-neutral content
When informing an audience about a product or service, it’s important to be inclusive and evoke emotions to take action.
Here are 5 quick tips on how to sound more gender-inclusive in any written marketing materials:
1. Change words such as
· postman, fireman, policeman, waiter, salesman to
· postal worker, firefighter, police officer, server, salesperson (or even more specifically: sales consultant, sales advisor, sales assistant, etc.).
If you can, use words such as humankind or person/people to include everyone.
2. Make use of words that are already gender-neutral (luckily, English has lots of them as opposed to more masculine languages such as German), e.g. actor (rather than actress), teacher, or athlete. There is no need whatsoever to specify a gender here.
3. Use more they / them / their (which is shorter than his/her etc. anyway).
4. This one depends on your target audience: Let’s say you’re addressing a young political activist group. Here you could try including more novel gender-neutral terms, e.g. ne, ve, hir, zir, xe, and Spivak pronouns. Another good example that comes to mind is the neologism Latinx (say: “Latin-ex”) mentioned in the Netflix series “One Day at a Time”.
5. Use the generic you more frequently. Usually, advertising copy written in English already addresses the end consumer as you and uses the imperative form, thus eliminating complicated pronouns suggesting traditional gender-typing. Examples include:
· When you follow these tips, you will…
· Did you know that…?
· 5 things you can do today to…
You can read more about gender-inclusive content writing here.
At the end of the day, we all have more in common than we don’t: We are human. Isn’t that beautiful? Perhaps one day, we will find that one word, one pronoun, one article (in all languages) that addresses every single person on this planet, but until that day comes: Why not focus on just being human? Maybe we’ll also get to witness a non-male U.S. president one day, you never know.
Would you like your blog or other corporate content to be translated or reviewed? Then get in touch with Belinda Grace Translating today!
This is how we can help:
📗 Support and improve your content strategy by offering high-quality translation services (German ↔ English)
📗 Grow your customer base by reaching an international audience with the right terminology and keywords
📗 Not quite sure which direction you want to take yet? We’ll happily hold a consultation session with you free of charge
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Thank you for reading!
Smiles all around,