Getting Gender Right for IELTS

 

Fortunately, gender is not as difficult in English as in other languages. Unlike French, for example, we don’t really assign feminine or masculine values to most things. However, there are some tricky instances when you do need to know how to use gendered terms in English for the IELTS.

Objects and Animals

Sometimes, but not often, we will apply a gender to an inanimate object. For example, people often refer to their cars as women!

How’s your new car?

She’s running really nicely!

Traditionally, ships are always known as feminine:

The Titanic sank in 1912. She went down into the waters with many souls on board.

We also commonly refer to countries or even the whole world as a “she”:

The United States is a proud country, and her people are fiercely patriotic.

We need to protect our Mother Earth – she is suffering greatly these days.

People

It is important that you get the gender of a person correct. This is something you really ought to pay attention to if you don’t have gender pronouns in your own language. For example, my Chinese students always confuse “he” and “she”:

My grandmother is a really nice lady. He She always buys me presents.

There has been a tendency in the past to assume gender when it is not known. If we don’t know who a person is, they have often been referred to as male:

When a student applies for a loan, he must complete the form in full.

However, these days that is considered a bit sexist. Instead, we now use non-gendered language:

When a student applies for a loan, they must complete the form in full.

This is called the unisex they. Some people are uncomfortable with it, but English is an evolving language and it is important to avoid outdated and offensive language.

Job Titles and Descriptors

In the past, we have often used “-man” in traditionally male jobs. However, as times change it is appropriate to find more inclusive terms. While your old textbook man teach you to say “fireman” and “policeman,” it is better to use “firefighter” and “police officer” to avoid offense. Likewise, we also use “businessperson” instead of “businessman” and “spokesperson” instead of “spokesman.”

Similarly, we try to avoid saying “mankind” or “man” to describe people. More appropriate terms include “humanity” or even the more technically accurate “homo sapiens.”

Of course, don’t worry about making mistakes while you are learning! It is all part of the process. If you find someone is upset by an incorrect use of gendered language, ask for their advice and they will be happy to help you learn.

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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