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The current (2019-10-10) version of the network-wide Code of Conduct emphasizes the use of gender-neutral language. This is not expected to be a significant change for Chemistry Stack Exchange since the posts on this site are usually about chemistry and not about people. Nevertheless, we might want to check if there is still anything that can be improved.

This meta post tries to raise awareness that gendered language could be an issue on Chemistry Stack Exchange, too.

This meta post also tries to gather some guidelines about best practices from well-established sources (and does not try to invent our own new rules) – like we did for various other topics. These guidelines are meant to be recommendations, not absolute rules – this meta post is supposed to help you and not to limit you. So please don't start an edit spree just to change some words that you might find in a new style guide if there is nothing else to be improved.

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Just by way of comparison, we might want to have a look at the corresponding chapter in the ACS Style Guide since this reference has helped us before when we were looking for guidelines on how to write things on Chemistry Stack Exchange (e.g. What is the recommended style of citing on chemistry.se? or What's the policy on systems of measure?).

Gender-Neutral Language


The U.S. government and many publishers have gone to great effort to encourage the use of gender-neutral language in their publications. Gender-neutral language is also a goal of many chemists. Recent style guides and writing guides urge copy editors and writers to choose terms that do not reinforce outdated sex roles. Gender-neutral language can be accurate and unbiased and not necessarily awkward.
The most problematic words are the noun “man” and the pronouns “he” and “his”, but there are usually several satisfactory gender-neutral alternatives for these words. Choose an alternative carefully and keep it consistent with the context.

  • Instead of “man”, use “people”, “humans”, “human beings”, or “human species”, depending on your meaning.

    ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ
    The effects of compounds I–X were studied in rats and man.

    ɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ-ɴᴇᴜᴛʀᴀʟ
    The effects of compounds I–X were studied in rats and humans.

    ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ
    Men working in hazardous environments are often unaware of their rights and responsibilities.

    ɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ-ɴᴇᴜᴛʀᴀʟ
    People working in hazardous environments are often unaware of their rights and responsibilities.

    ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ
    Man’s search for beauty and truth has resulted in some of his greatest accomplishments.

    ɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ-ɴᴇᴜᴛʀᴀʟ
    The search for beauty and truth has resulted in some of our greatest accomplishments.

  • Instead of “manpower”, use “workers”, “staff ”, “work force”, “labor”, “crew”, “employees”, or “personnel”, depending on your meaning.

  • Instead of “man-made”, use “synthetic”, “artificial”, “built”, “constructed”, “manufactured”, or even “factory-made”.

  • Instead of “he” and “his”, change the construction to a plural form (“they” and “theirs”) or first person (“we”, “us”, and “ours”). Alternatively, delete “his” and replace it with “a”, “the”, or nothing at all. “His or her”, if not overused, is also acceptable. Using passive voice or second person (“you”, “your”, and “yours”) also works sometimes.

    ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ
    The principal investigator should place an asterisk after his name.

    ɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ-ɴᴇᴜᴛʀᴀʟ
    Principal investigators should place asterisks after their names.
    If you are the principal investigator, place an asterisk after your name.
    The name of the principal investigator should be followed by an asterisk.

  • Do not use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent.

    ɪɴᴄᴏʀʀᴇᴄᴛ
    The principal investigator should place an asterisk after their name.

    ᴄᴏʀʀᴇᴄᴛ
    The principal investigators should place asterisks after their names.

  • Instead of “wife”, use “family” or “spouse” where appropriate.

    ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ
    The work of professionals such as chemists and doctors is often so time-consuming that their wives are neglected.

    ɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ-ɴᴇᴜᴛʀᴀʟ
    The work of professionals such as chemists and doctors is often so time-consuming that their families are neglected.

    ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ
    the society member and his wife

    ɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ-ɴᴇᴜᴛʀᴀʟ
    the society member and spouse

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    $\begingroup$ This post was originally written in the Sandbox about one year earlier, waiting for an update of the ACS Style Guide. However, it looks like the new version will not be available for free anytime soon. Therefore, we decided to post this answer as it is. $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Jul 13 '20 at 17:07

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