The Extinction of Masculine Generics

Authors
Brian D. Earp
Oxford University
Abstract
In English, as in many other languages, male-gendered pronouns are sometimes used to refer not only to men, but to individuals whose gender is unknown or unspecified, to human beings in general (as in ―mankind‖) and sometimes even to females (as when the casual ―Hey guys‖ is spoken to a group of women). These so-called he/man or masculine generics have come under fire in recent decades for being sexist, even archaic, and positively harmful to women and girls; and advocates of gender-neutral (or nonsexist) language have put forward serious efforts to discourage their use. Have they been successful, and to what extent? In this paper, I review some of the main arguments in favor of abolishing sexist male generics. I then present three studies tracking the use of he/man terminology in academic, popular, and personal discourse over the past several decades. I show that the use of these terms has fallen dramatically in recent years, while nonsexist alternatives have gradually taken their place. We may be paying witness to the early stages of the ultimate extinction of masculine generics.
Keywords masculine generics  gender  sexist language  pronouns  discourse
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