In order to be fair and unbiased toward all members of the potential audience who may read an essay, it is important that the author uses language that does not stereotype or unfairly categorize any group of people or individuals. Besides offending potential readers, an author who uses sexist or racist language, for example, also damages his or her credibility in the eyes of the audience. Even if the use of unbiased language is a mistake, that mistake which may seem small on paper, can have much larger implications and consequences.
One of the more common forms of unbiased language is gender bias. For example, the sentence, “Any student interested in playing basketball should see his coach by this afternoon,” implies that only boys are interested in playing basketball. What about the girls in the school who are interested? Perhaps the boys and the girls are having separate tryout sessions, but this needs to be clarified as to not imply that only boys are interested in athletics.
One way to avoid this mistake is to use the plural form. The above sentence would change to read, “Any students interested in playing basketball should see their coaches by this afternoon.” This implies that all students, both boys and girls, should talk to their respective coaches if they are interested in playing basketball. Another way to solve this problem that is becoming more popular is using the word their, even when the subject is singular, as a gender neutral word. For example, “Any student interested in playing basketball should see their coach by this afternoon.” Although some people may argue that this is incorrect because the subject and the verb do not agree, it is becoming more common and acceptable use of the word.
A variation on this gender bias occurs when referring to groups of people. In gender neutral terms, a mailman becomes a mail carrier, a businessman becomes a business person, freshmen are first-year students, the boss’s wives are the boss’s spouses, male nurses are nurses, female senators are senators, and a waiter or a waitress translates into a server. By using these gender neutral terms, one does not stereotype or typecast any group of people.