Does it matter what words we use to describe and label people? Feminist writers have argued that it does matter (see for example Lakoff, 1975). Their argument is that words do not just reflect our beliefs and attitudes, but actually play a part in forming and reinforcing those beliefs and attitudes. The use of the pronouns ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’, for example, to refer to people (both women and men) is more than just a neutral, unimportant grammatical convention. It has the effect of putting men implicitly at the centre of anything that is spoken about, whilst ‘back grounding’ women. The effect is subtle, but pervasive and powerful. Nowadays most social scientific publications require writers to use non-gender specific pronouns when referring to people.
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