Replacing gendered language with gender inclusive language is powerful step toward equality and moving beyond the binary. Gender inclusive language has many purposes. First, it recognizes the existence, equality and presence of women within society. Second, it recognizes the thousands of people worldwide who don’t conform to traditional gender roles and expectations. Third, it is inclusive of people who embrace a range of gender non-conforming (GNC) identities.
For this reason, this article presents traditionally gendered terms, followed by simple gender neutral alternatives with which you can substitute them.
I’ve even broken them down by category for your convenience. Enjoy!
Gender Inclusive Language Choices
1. Gender Inclusive Terms for Daily Life
- Instead of he or she, use they.
- Instead of him or her, use them.
- Instead of his or her, use their.
- Instead of men and women, use everyone.
- Instead of male and female, use human.
- Instead of girls and boys, use kids or kiddos.
- Instead of using Mr., Ms., Mrs., use Mx.
2. Gender Inclusive Family Terms
- Instead of wife or husband, use spouse.
- Instead of sister or brother, use sibling.
- Instead of daughter or son, use child or kid.
- Instead of mom or dad (or moms or dads), use parents. Other great alternatives are caregivers, caretakers, family, grown-up, or even adult.
- Instead of grandma or grandpa, use grandparent.
- Instead of niece or nephew, use nibling (a collective term for nieces and nephews or a non-gendered term to describe the children of one’s sibling).
3. Gender Inclusive Work Terms
- Instead of ladies and gentleman, use distinguished guests or honored guests.
- Instead of women or men, use everyone, folks, you all, y’all, or simply people.
- Instead of lady or guy, use person.
Thankfully, co–worker is already a beautifully gender-neutral term!
4. Context Specific Gender Inclusive Terms
- Instead of boys and girls (in a classroom), use students, pupils, you all, y’all or friends.
- Instead of ladies and gents (on a team), use alright athletes, team or people.
- Instead of Almighty Father (in a religious setting), use God or Supreme Being.
5. Gender Inclusive Relationship Terms
- Instead of girlfriend or boyfriend, use partner or significant other.
If you’re feeling a little more creative, you can also use the adorable gender-neutral terms joyfriend or theyfriend.
Importance of Gender Inclusive Language
Now that we’ve presented these beautifully inclusive terms, let’s explore the vital importance of gender inclusive language and why it matters for equality.
While gender fluid, nonbinary and gender non-conforming (GNC) people have existed across all cultures and time periods, these identities are becoming more visible than ever. Celebrities are openly expressing their nonbinary identities, activists are challenging the gender binary and influencers on social media are embracing a range of gender expressions.
Together, these forces are supporting a swell of (long overdue) attention around gender inclusive language.
As articulately stated by activist and writer Glennon Doyle, “There’s never been a time when it’s been scarier to live out loud, to speak and use your voice as a woman. There’s also never been a time when it’s more important for women to use their voices and speak their truths and their hopes and dreams for themselves and their families and their country.”
As explained by Alok Vaid-Menon, a brilliant gender non-conforming writer and performance artist, “All language was invented. That people don’t get mad when new words like ‘tweet’ and ‘hangry’ are developed and recognized, they get mad when new words about gender and sexuality are. The purpose of language is to make meaning — we are constantly creating new ways of fashioning language to be more particular, nuanced, and precise. Language shifts and adapts with time… When you control language, you control reality.”
Put simply, words can empower, words can free, and words can be used to respect and recognize the existence of both individuals and groups of people. Being recognized within the lexicon is important.
Or as I say: Language matters.
Gender Neutral Pronoun: ‘They”
In December 2019, Merriam-Webster announced the word ‘they’ as its 2019 Word of the Year. Previously, singular ‘they’ was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in September 2019 as a pronoun to be used to refer to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary.
‘They’ is a gender inclusive term, because it can refer to a single individual without assigning them as a binary gender (she/he). The word was a clear forerunner, as Merriam-Webster stated that searches for ‘they’ increased by 313% in 2019 compared to the prior year.
The American Dialect Society also chose singular ‘they’ as their word of the year in 2015, signifying a vote of approval for its usage as a pronoun for nonbinary individuals.
Both of these awards provide critical support for the understanding that language evolves and ‘they’ has been used in this context for hundreds of years.
What did you think of this list? Where there new ideas for gender neutral terms that you found helpful?
I’d love nothing more than this list to be ever-growing, so I’ll continually update it. Could you share in the comments more additions that I should add?