The "he or she" problem - how do you writers handle it?

India
October 9, 2008 11:42pm CST
Recently, what I call the "he and she" problem has been irritating me a lot. Let me explain with an example. I am currently writing a series of homeschooling articles. Now, I have to mention the term "your child" a lot. Saying "your child" every now and then can be a pain in the you know where. So, I have to replace it with "he." If I replace it with "he," it is going to be gender sensitive. So, I have to say "he or she." You get my point? Saying "he or she" every time is again a pain. Do you guys have any idea as to how to solve this "he or she" problem? I have thought about the plural form too. It doesn't always fit. I can say "your children" and "they." But, somehow it doesn't appeal!! Help!! Cheers and happy mylotting!
8 people like this
20 responses
@Shawchert (1040)
• United States
10 Oct 08
I have never written articles like this but I have seen them written many times as I've looked for advice for my son and read a parenting magazine. I have noticed that you can do several things like in the beginning referr to one or the other and in parenthesis the opposite gender, and then keep calling it that same gender outside the parenthesis or you can go every paragraph being he or she and switching each paragraph.
4 people like this
@patgalca (14394)
• Orangeville, Ontario
10 Oct 08
I have seen pamphlets that come home from school advising us on how to help educate our children, etc. The last one I read referred to the child as a "she". I think you can use one but stick to the same gender throughout. The other option is using "student" and "pupil" instead of "your child".
3 people like this
@Annie2 (594)
• United States
13 Oct 08
I would recommend you get "The Bedford Handbook" by Diana Hacker, published by Bedford/St. Martin's. This book is an excellent resource for writers. It has a section that deals with your question. It considers using "he or she" as wordy and that you need to use other words and that you have to be very careful about being sexist. One of the other posters said "mankind" is not sexist, however, the handbook says that grammar checkers would flag "mankind" as sexist. It recommends "people" or "humans." An example about "his or her" is given in the handbook: (I put quotation marks around the words we are concerned about in order to point them out for clarity.) SEXIST: A journalist is stimulated by "his" deadline. ACCEPTABLE BUT WORDY: A journalist is stimulated by "his" or "her" deadline. BETTER: USING THE PLURAL: "Journalists" are stimulated by "their" deadlines. BETTER: RECASTING THE SENTENCE: A journalist is stimulated by "a" deadline. Just change the words to child, children, students, student, etc. I hope this helps.
• India
22 Oct 08
That's a great response. I will surely check out the book. Thanks, Annie!! :)
1 person likes this
• United States
11 Oct 08
Sorry, that is an ongoing irritation with me as well. He/she, he/she, he/she... how annoying! And you can't say 'it'! I think a new word needs to be invented to refer to he or she's that is genderless! Shee, sh1t, hesh, something!
2 people like this
• United States
11 Oct 08
PS: I have noticed that some writer's switch back and forth from 'he' to 'she', in a couple of sentences they will say he and in other sentences they will say she.
2 people like this
@kenzie45230 (3560)
• United States
10 Oct 08
It is a problem any time you're writing an article. Thankfully, you're wise enough to not use they/their/them when you're speaking about only one child. That really irritates me. I've noticed on some web sites that they will use he for one example, then she for the next.
2 people like this
@angela38 (122)
• United States
10 Oct 08
This is very wise remarks here.
1 person likes this
@xParanoiax (6999)
• United States
10 Oct 08
It helps to have a few options. Usually, I've found, there's only a couple. I have this problem sometimes when I'm writing works of fiction. Usually whena scene is simple and involves repeating of a character's name or...in trying to reference them, their genders or descriptions. While it FEELS very repetitive and, obviously, irritating, if you put up with it and try to work with it as best you can...going over it later you may find that it doesn't look as bad as it sounds in your head. It's hard, I know. I have a hard time dealing with this sometimes myself. Just a writer's peeve, I suppose.
2 people like this
• Malaysia
11 Oct 08
I'd agree with Paranoia. In cases where I have to refer to two genders I switch between sentences, so the reader knows that it's generic and can be used to refer to both male and female children.
1 person likes this
• India
12 Oct 08
The advantage of writingon teh computer is that youcan change things later after you have written it. Just write "he' and after youhave completed teharticle and formedit use find and replace and replace "he" with "he or she" It saves you the bother of writing it time and again. Even if you just write 'he' it is understood. Just mention it in the beginning.
2 people like this
@Sheepie (3118)
• United States
11 Oct 08
You can just use "he," because nobody really gets offended just because of that. I have read some books in which the author writes in the preface something about this problem, and that they are just going to say he to avoid any confusion. It's really no big deal.
2 people like this
@checapricorn (16066)
• United States
10 Oct 08
[i]Hi positive, I am also annoyed the use of he and she but there are instances really when we cannot just replace it with they and any word especially when we want to emphasize![/i]
2 people like this
@GemmaR (8526)
10 Oct 08
I think, in this kind of article, it is absolutely fine to keep repeating 'your child'. The child will be the reason that the parents will be reading the article in the first place, so they will not mind if this phrase is repeated to them many times throughout. You're right not to use he or she, this would be potentially discriminating to your readers. Your child is fine to use.
2 people like this
@paid2write (5202)
10 Oct 08
I think I would try to use different gender neutral terms like infant, child, pupil, student, scholar, etc. with very limited use of 'he or she', 'son or daughter', 'they' or 'them'. I think the plural could be used too: Some children.., most children....,
@winterose (39918)
• Canada
10 Oct 08
in academic writing the standard is to pluralize, if you want not to be redundant get a thesaurus, your child, you offspring, you baby, your toddler, your teenager, your pre teen, your little rascal or brat (of course this depends on what you are writing) your angel is another depending on what you are writing,
2 people like this
• Singapore
10 Oct 08
Hi positiveminded, I have that problem too sometimes. When I need to choose to say either one, I would say "he". I believe I was taught to use "he" in school. But I still find it difficult sometimes to just mention one gender over the other. So I sometimes use "he/she" but not more than twice in an article, or it will sound really weird after awhile, like you said, a pain in the you know where
• Philippines
10 Oct 08
hello there! actually, "he" can be a general term. Like "man", which refers to all gender as humans. It would be fine to use "he" as a general term. If you can notice, in most sayings and quotes that we commonly find in books, "he" is used for persons and never a "she". If you want to be specific, you can start the idea with "your child" etc and you can use the succeeding sentences with "he". :-)
1 person likes this
@sharra1 (6342)
• Australia
11 Oct 08
This is true but if a girl is reading it they feel very left out that everything is male and so not relevant to them. This has been a problem for centuries and the reason that male is the default term is that the world was male and women had little part in it. The word man causes the same problem, mankind or human is better as that is inclusive and does not exclude women.
1 person likes this
@penny64 (1106)
• Australia
22 Oct 08
This has been interesting reading, because I often have that problem as well when writing. I wish we had a pronoun which meant "he or she", as "it" sounds a bit rude when referring to someone's child ... lol! A lot of people write "they", but it is incorrect. Good luck!
1 person likes this
@sharra1 (6342)
• Australia
11 Oct 08
Well it depends on what you are writing. I sometimes use he/she so that it covers both genders and that is being inclusive. You can also use plural as they or them are not gender specific but personally I like the he/she rather than he or she.
1 person likes this
@celticeagle (118255)
• Boise, Idaho
10 Oct 08
You have to set it up early on. A situation where the 'he' 'she' is established and then off you go. Just set it up early and go for it.
@Amberina (1541)
• United States
10 Oct 08
You could say pupil or student that would cover female or male.
1 person likes this
10 Oct 08
Hi positiveminded, When your writing about a child there is not many words you can use, I sometime use 'daughter or son,' but its is diffcult how you worded, the easiest is the word is 'child.' Tamara
1 person likes this
@cbreeze (1207)
• United States
10 Oct 08
I have read articles where they switch up. Sometimes they use he and sometimes they you she. Why not try that approach.
1 person likes this