Avoid Excluding Women

Sexist language often excludes one sex, usually women. It can always be avoided. It is always possible, for instance, to avoid generic he and generic man. Many women object to these terms which they feel treat them as invisible or unimportant.

"The chairman of Commercial Law is Yvonne van Roy."

This university uses the term chairperson. Many women do not feel included in the term chairman,

"The average student is enrolled in XX credits per year. He takes more than three years to complete his Bachelor's degree."

To avoid generic he, you can:

Use the personal (I/you):
"On average students are enrolled in X credits per year. They generally take more than three years to complete a Bachelor's degree".
Use the passive (it):
"Students are enrolled in XX credits per year on average and it takes more than three years to complete a Bachelor's degree".

Treat Women and Men Equally

Sexist Language treats women and men differently without reason. Do you address and refer to people as they prefer? Do you treat male and female colleagues, students, teachers, administrators equally in this respect?

"The chairperson of the Public Policy Department is Claudia Scott. The chairperson of Nursing Studies is Professor Fulcher".

Many women find they are addressed or referred to by their first name while males in the same context are not. Do you know how the people in your workplace prefer to be addressed?

"I've asked to be called Ms if people must use a title, but people who dislike the term insist on calling me Mrs".

Many women prefer no title at all, or choose Ms if one is absolutely necessary. Others prefer Mrs or Miss. Take the trouble to find out what people prefer.

"Janet Frame is a New Zealand authoress". Many women experience the suffixes -ess and -ette as trivialising diminutives. Terms like "poetess", "sculptress" and "actress" cannot be used without risk of offence.

Avoid insulting imagery

Sexist language insults women with offensive or demeaning terms.

"Our new boss is a real fox!"

"The new student in room 4 is a lovely bit of stuff!"

"Our secretary is a real peach!"

Many women do not like being addressed or described by terms which compare them to animals, objects or food, however complimentary the intention.

"Mr X is a real old woman at times."

Many women object when terms which describe women are used as insults to describe men.


It can always be avoided!

If you want suggestions about how to avoid a specific instance of sexist language write to the Convenor of the Committee on Sexual Harassment, c/o the Registry.

This leaflet was prepared by the Committee on Sexual Harassment, Victoria University of Wellington.

Printed by Communications Services Section, Victoria University of Wellington.