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'He or She Is a Sexist'

April 05, 1986

Your editorial seemed to imply that avoiding sexist language in writing is such a difficult problem that you would have us shelve it and wait for some future generation to supply new pronouns. I am surprised that you are not as ingenious as my college freshman students at solving gender dilemmas in writing.

The students would quickly say that "Anyone who drives without a seat belt takes his or her life in his or her hands" is awkward and repetitious. And they would also tell you that "Anyone who drives without a seat belt takes their life in their hands" is fine for informal speech, but that the pronoun-agreement error simply would not wash in written standard American. The way to solve this problem and others using singular pronouns is simply not to use them.

Contemporary non-sexist writers would say, "People who drive without seat belts take their lives in their hands." Or, better yet, "Drivers who do not use seat belts take their lives in their hands." The latter solution is preferred because it puts the emphasis on what a group of people do rather than on their gender.

I cannot agree with Mary-Claire Van Leunen who suggests we continue to use masculine pronouns, but think of them as neuter. Sorry, that would never work. I do, however, share the views of William and Mary Morris that the problem of singular pronouns remains unsolved at present. However, if we consciously try to avoid sexist language in this generation, I do believe the language we need will evolve as it always has. Sexist pronouns won't be around forever!

BETH PAULSON

South Pasadena

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