I was called a sexist because of a single tweet.
At a blogging session at Blog Indiana, I said, “If you’re opposed to ghost blogging, then let the woman who answers your phone introduce herself to every caller.”
I actually hesitated for a moment. What was a less sexist way of asking this? I knew there was a potential for trouble, and there was an easy way out of it, but I wasn’t a big fan of the solution, so I skipped it.
Then I followed it up with “If you’re against ghost blogging, let your copywriter sign her name to your brochure” to balance things out.
Sure enough, I got called out by Mary Long (@lawfirmPRwriter): “or how about “the PERSON who answers your phone shouldn’t introduce themselves?” Not all writers are men/women are secretaries.”
Yes, absolutely. Not all women are secretaries (actually, they’re administrative assistants now, as I’ve been reminded many times), but Mary’s solution is the one I was trying to avoid.
Now, I loathe the “he/she solution.” As in “If you’re against ghost blogging, let the man/woman who answers the phone introduce himself/herself.” That’s just ugly.
Or, I could be a little more generic and use “themselves,” but it’s actually wrong. And since I just got done giving a keynote about the importance of language and writing, I didn’t want to abuse the language, even though I had just advocated the overthrow of the “don’t end your sentences with a preposition” rule.
The problem is if I talk about the one person who answers the phone, I can’t use the plural themselves.
Plus I’ve been admonished by our editor on No Bullshit Social Media not to do that, so I hesitate doing it now.
So I fell back on what I usually try to do, and balance it out. I’ll use the male pronoun sometimes, but because I know better, I balance it out by using the female pronoun and possessive at other times.
And if I do something like “the woman who answers your phones,” I’ll follow it up with “let the copywriter sign her name.”
I don’t always have the space, especially on Twitter, to be completely nonsexist or inclusive in my language. And I don’t want to be as politically correct as I had to be in the 1990s, filling every grad school paper with he/she and him/her.
I have to be satisfied with being nonsexist over my entire body of work, and making sure that I balance the hes and the shes. I make sure that I don’t always talk about nurses as being women or doctors as being men. It’s not a perfect solution, and it requires the reader to read more of my work than a single 140 character remark, but it’s the best solution I’ve found.
It can be a real struggle and I would know what solution other writers have found. How do you solve the sexist language question? Have you found a workable solution? Do you have any suggestions?