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When Man First Came Down From the Trees… He Decided to Own the Language

by Katherine Graham
March 2015

CMP Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.

Katherine Graham

I am disappointed by the media’s return to the generic ‘he’ and ‘man’. What happened to respect and dignity? I certainly don’t feel respected when I’m told that ‘mankind’s first dwellings were…’ or that ‘a doctor feels he needs to…’. I feel my dignity is under attack when, on challenging this, I am told that a generic masculine is ‘understood’ to ‘include’ women, and that really I am making a silly, outdated fuss about nothing very important.

But it is important. If we really mean to treat people with respect, then this is a simple choice. Either use the generic knowing it upsets people, in which case you’re being deliberately inflammatory, or make a tiny effort to reframe your language.

So let’s try that sentence again, this time using a generic catch-all masculine, and see how the generic just does not wash: ‘If we are really to strive to treat man with respect…’.

It isn’t hard.

Avoid the generic ‘man’ – studies show we think ‘male’ when we hear this. Try for yourself: what does the sentence ‘Man’s vital interests include life, food and access to females’ really mean?
Avoid the generic, ‘he’. Don’t use a disclaimer that masculine pronouns are to be taken as referring to both genders, as this is likely to offend, and make for sloppy male-assumptions when writing.
Instead:

Change singular to plural – ‘A person with an allegation of bullying needs to keep a diary of when he feels he is being bullied’ becomes ‘People with allegations…’
Use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun – Shakespeare did, even though your teacher may have taught you not to!
Use the second person – ‘Each candidate should write his name…’ becomes ‘Write your name…’
Use ‘the other’ – ‘Each person in turn gives feedback to his partner’ becomes ‘Each person in turn gives feedback to the other.’
There is a great book called the A-Z of Non Sexist Language, written by Margaret Doyle if you want to know more.

 

Biography


Katherine Graham has worked in the field of dispute resolution for over 15 years’ as a mediator and trainer. She has mediated on the BBC Learning Zone and has given keynote speeches on conflict management and mediation for The MOD’s Equal Opportunities Conference, Women in Business Annual conference and “Getting Beyond Conflict”, a national conference on workplace dispute resolution. Katherine joined CMP Resolutions (formerly Conflict Management Plus) in 1992. She was made a director of the company in 1998 and became Managing Director in May 2009. Prior to this she managed teams in publishing and communications departments for major national charities including The Work Foundation, the RNID and the King’s Fund. She was the inaugural Chair of the Institute of Conflict Management.

Publications

Author of The Directory of Mediation Services for Social Landlords (National Housing Federation)

Editor, “Equilibrium” – a quarterly journal of dispute resolution

Co-author Mediation for Managers (NB Books 2002)



Email Author
Website: www.cmpresolutions.co.uk

Additional articles by Katherine Graham

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