Gender inclusive language

Gender Inclusive Language is written, oral and visual communication that does not exclude or demean any particular gender identity. The following fact sheet provides information on the definitions of different sexual orientations and gender identities and shows the varying ways that our language can be exclusionary.

Gender exclusionary language

Exclusionary language is language that expresses bias in favour of one sex and thus discriminates against other gender identities. Language that discriminates against a gender identity by not adequately reflecting their role, status and presence in society is exclusionary.

Some of the major forms of sexist language are described below.

  1. InvisibilityWomen and gender identities such as intersex people are often invisible in language. This is due to the use of the masculine pronouns 'he', 'him', 'his' to refer to both men and women, and the use of 'man' as a noun, verb or adjective in words such as 'mankind', 'man made'. Where possible, these pronouns should be replaced with non-gender specific words, for example, change 'if a student wants to succeed, he should hand in his papers on time' to 'if a student wants to succeed, they should hand in their papers on time'
  2. InferiorityExpressions such as 'female academic' and 'male nurse' diminish the importance of the role that is being described and focus attention on the gender of the person. In these instances gender is an unnecessary reference and should be challenged.
  3. TrivialisationLanguage can be used to trivialise women and their activities, actions and occupations through expressions such as 'just a housewife'.
  4. Recognition of other gender identitiesIt is important to recognise that not all people identify as male or female. This can be done through collecting data in an inclusive manner (see Gender Inclusive Language Guidelines) and through inclusive, respectful and informed behaviour that recognises other gender identities.\ 

Definitions

The following definitions are derived from the Australian Human Rights Commission document Addressing sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity discrimination (2011).

Sex: The term 'sex'  refers to a person's biological characteristics. A person's sex is usually described as being male or female. Some people may not be exclusively male or female (the term 'intersex' is explained below). Some people identify as neither male nor female.

Gender: The term 'gender' refers to the way in which a person identifies or expresses their masculine or feminine characteristics. Gender is generally understood as a social and cultural construction. A person's gender identity or gender expression is not always exclusively male or female and may or may not correspond to their sex.

Gender identity: The term 'gender identity' refers to a person's deeply held internal and individual sense of gender.

Gender expression: The term 'gender expression' refers to the way in which a person externally expresses their gender or how they are perceived by others. Intersex: The term 'intersex' refers to people who have genetic, hormonal or physical characteristics that are not exclusively 'male' or 'female'. A person who is intersex may identify as male, female, intersex or as being of indeterminate sex.

Trans: The term 'trans' is a general term for a person whose gender identity is different to their sex at birth. A trans person may take steps to live permanently in their nominated sex with or without medical treatment.