Gender-exclusive titles

In their book, Strategies for Writing, Ann E. Healy and Martha Walusayi state that using male forms to imply both sexes should nowadays be considered incorrect.

Fifty years ago there were very few female police officers – today there are many more. So why refer to the people who pursue that career as policemen? Is everyone who delivers a mail a postman? Is every member of the Board of Directors in a business a chairman? Of course not, and it shows bias in favour of the male gender to use these words as gender-inclusive generalisations. To those who protest that ‘man’ is merely a generic term that includes both sexes equally, consider the phrase often used in history classes: “the great male theory of history”. Whose faces come to mind when you picture these movers and shakers down through the ages? Enough said.

The authors propose that a good way to steer clear of the issue of gender exclusive titles (policeman, congressman, stewardess, and so on), is to use gender neutral words: police officer instead of policeman; senator and representative in place of congressman; flight attendant to replace stewardess. With a little effort the old fashioned terms can be brought up-to-date for the realities of today’s politically-correct job market.

In recent years, people have striven to change to keep up with changing roles in the classroom and the job market. “Every student should have his report done by next week” is needlessly exclusive. Do the girls not need to hand in their assignments at the same time? The awkward phraseology of “his/her” is inclusive, but also tends to stop the sentence mid-breath. What is usually simpler is to cast the whole sentence in the plural: “Students should all have their reports done by next week.”

Now, my question is (aside from the fact that this use may offend women): is it possible (or indeed necessary) to change a speaker’s natural vocabulary by making an artificial effort simply to sound more politically correct?

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