Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing with an Unspecified Gender: Wrap-Up

This post wraps up my relatively meandering series about writing about a person whose gender you either don’t know or wish to conceal. I had hoped to have a definite opinion on the subject by this point. Unfortunately, I still feel that the best way to deal with the topic is to avoid it by writing in the second person.

When one feels that one must use the third person, one wants to confuse ones readers as little as possible. If one uses the plural pronouns for singular subjects, one runs the risk of mixing up ones self and ones audience. When one chooses the one-note “one”, one alienates readers looking for a more casual tone. One is also forced to repeat oneself rather a lot.

The neologisms offer an interesting alternative but, unless your audience already knows the forms you will use, distract and confuse your readers. In addition, they would - almost without exception - fail to impress or entertain mainstream media editors and publishers. Unless you are using them to make a point, they won’t serve you well in a piece you want to sell.

While using forms “he” or “she” as defaults for writing with an unspecified gender offends some people, it’s by far the easiest way to construct an understandable piece. The key is to be consistent throughout your piece. Don’t change the gender of your subject halfway through! If you missed the first three posts, you can read them as follows.
Defining the Problem
Using Plural Pronouns
Using Neologisms


Damien Riley


Since i teach in elementary education which is populated mostly by women, i find using she/he to be the most conducive to winning friends and influencing people ;) You know what bugs me? How many people on the web type "one's" rrrrrr. It is just like hers or his, you don't apostrophe those so what gives? Then there are those who apostrophe plurals . . . don't get me started.