The attitude towards the role of gender in language has been one of progressive change as more establishments, publishers and indeed society aim for gender-neutral pronoun use and terms (inclusive language), as opposed to gender specific (exclusive language). If one reads English authored books from say 20 years ago, there will be many more references to 'he'. However, nowadays it is more likely that he/she, he or she, or even the plural, they will be more commonly observed. Job titles have become gender neutral; for example, the transition from 'fireman' to 'firefighter', 'policeman' to 'police officer', and the list goes on.
What does this have to do with teaching?
Well, not all of the world is migrating from the use of exclusive language; unlike the West, which has been adapting to the change for around the past 30 years (Sudo, 2007). This may mean that you could be placed into an environment where the male remains dominant, and is reflected in the materials you may be expected to work with. Locally produced materials could be full of examples of exclusive language, which is an outdated representation of what is reality beyond the classroom. We need to be prepared to replace exclusive language with inclusive language, possibly through negotiation with our superior(s). Students preparing for studying (at university) overseas are particularly susceptible to this and could fail their courses if they continue to use exclusive language in their assignments and dissertations.
I had always been the best student in my class, always, this is why I took that advanced English composition class. My very first essay was a disaster. My instructor took off two point for each 'he' referring to 'student' and wrote in the margins: 'Use plural: students ...they'. [...] Eventually, I dropped out of that class [...]
(sudo, 2007: 13).
Making students aware of inclusive language is an important issue that needs to be raised whenever it becomes necessary to do so. We cannot assume that our students will remain in their country for the rest of their lives, and for that reason we need to take on the responsibility to teach them reality.
Sudo, J. (2007). Teaching New Tendencies in Gender Usage. ELT Journal, 61(1): 12-19.
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