I was reading How to deal with a very productive contributor who wants to steer the project in a different direction? and noticed that all pronouns in it were male. Now I'm not 100% sure if this is a situation that actually occurred and that this person is actually male, but it seemed to me like this was not relevant.

IT is a field with a considerable gender gap and addressing hypothetical people as male by default doesn't help. (Though I'm not entirely convinced it really damages either.)

Keeping this in mind I answered using only gender-neutral terms. Should we, as a community, try to make this the standard or is this unnecessary?

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We can try and try and try, but it will be difficult to manage and hard to control. Some people will, but many others won't. Especially when it's a real life situation: it's not normally "easy" to change up the story, even if its minor.

Also, despite having a gender gap in the relevant fields, there won't be much that we can do about the issue. We're not marketing the gender gap here, but the little things we can do can help.

I'm not here to say that we shouldn't support this. In fact, it would be great for us to help create a gender-neutral environment. I think we should encourage it. But I also want to say that we shouldn't contribute a considerable amount of time enforcing and editing this.

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I see two problems with this. This question asks a general question from a concrete instance, and the gendered language of the question follows the gender of the concrete example. This doesn't seem wrong to me.

Secondly, this seems difficult to mandate. I'm all for preferring it, but how exactly does it help anything? What exactly should we do if questions or answers are not written in gender neutral language?

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  • The problem is that the concrete example could be rephrased to be gender neutral without harming the question in any way. One question about someone who's male won't harm, but if all of our questions assume males, it becomes an issue. I would suggest we edit if it's possible without making the question worse and link to this question in the explanation. – overactor Jun 28 '15 at 13:23
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    Do we want to consistently keep editing questions to be gender-neutral though? I would welcome it as our "preferred" form, but I don't think it should be enforced, or even can be enforced without leading to more drama and off-topic discussion than it helps the cause (which isn't within the scope of the SE anyway) – Martijn Jun 28 '15 at 14:12
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    I agree with that, enforcing it is a fantasy, having it as a preferred form and trying to get people on board without being forceful is worth an effort I think. – overactor Jun 28 '15 at 14:20

Unnecessary, for many reasons, some already stated.

  • It'll be hard to enforce. Obviously community editing makes it easier, but there's no way we'll get every post especially when quantity starts to increase.
  • Anyone who reads a post written with male pronouns, doesn't realise it can equally be applied to female pronouns, and gets offended, is frankly a little oversensitive.
  • I see no active damage that is done. If there was, I'd consider this as more important. OK, it may not help, but does using female or neutral pronouns really help or is that wishful thinking?

It's also unnecessary to edit if you come across a post with all-male or all-female pronouns (and if I find these edits in the suggested edit queue, I'll be rejecting them and referring to here). Unless someone actively takes offence in the comments, there's no point. If they do, then it may as well be done to avoid further problems, but beyond that it doesn't improve the post to change the pronouns.

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  • I'm not entirely sure it will help either, and I certainly don't think people will be offended otherwise. All I know is that when a post uses female pronouns, I feel less addressed. I can imagine women feel the same when male pronouns are used. I'm not saying we should actively enforce it, but rather asking if editing it if you see an opportunity would be an option. – overactor Jun 28 '15 at 14:05
  • @overactor I see. Let me add something about that. – ArtOfCode Jun 28 '15 at 14:06
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    Yes, using gender-neutral pronouns is perceived by many to help a lot with inclusiveness, and it's also the "right thing to do". I'm not aware of any research on the subject, but it seems completely reasonable to assume that a community where male gendered language is used persistently, it re-enforces the idea that it's a "male subject", even if only unconsciously. I'm a strong proponent of using gender-neutral language myself, I'm just don't think it can be enforced on a site as this. – Martijn Jun 28 '15 at 14:10
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    @Martijn - that point of view sounds like it should be properly expressed in an answer, so that we can vote and decide that way. – ArtOfCode Jun 28 '15 at 14:11
  • I'm a bit confused. "if I find these edits in the suggested edit queue, I'll be rejecting them", yet... this. – Tim Malone Jun 23 '16 at 23:30

I encourage not making assumptions about people's gender. But the problem about “gender-neutral English” is that there's no such thing: singular pronouns in English have gender. There is a movement to change that, but it's just that: a movement to change it, not a standard adopted by a majority of English speakers, let alone the sole correct variety of English. In particular, please keep in mind that “singular they” is often not taught to non-native speakers, so its use can exclude less fluent speakers. (I do use singular they sometimes nonetheless. Language marches on.)

I would however be opposed to editing posts to change pronouns (whether it's to replace he/she by they or the opposite), just like posts shouldn't be edited to forbid British or American English. Using he and she as singular pronouns without necessarily implying a person of a particular gender, and reserving they for the plural, is standard English too and should be accepted. Using he as a pronoun is not intrinsically sexist: it's standard language; only deviations from the standard have a political connotation. Language in a technical setting like this site is primarily a way to be understood, not a way to make a political statement.

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  • You make good points and this is a well written and reasoned retort. But this is meta, and I disagree, so have a down vote. – overactor Jun 28 '15 at 21:57
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    @overactor Instead of saying only “I disagree”, which is just noise, you should either say which point you disagree with, or keep quiet. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 28 '15 at 22:04
  • For one, I disagree that some people not knowing about singular they is reason not to use it. Especially considering what people can get from context. Secondly, you seem to imply that I'm saying they is grammatically more correct, which I'm not. Using he or she might not be intrinsically sexist, but using it everywhere does help build an unintentionally sexist community. – overactor Jun 28 '15 at 22:25
  • Your claim that only deviations from the standard have a political connotation is naive, a sentence without political connotation has yet to be spoken. I agree that making a political statement is not the primary purpose of this site, but seeing as that's unavoidable, we should pick that statement carefully. – overactor Jun 28 '15 at 22:25

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