There are some questions on gender-neutral pronouns both here and on Writers.

User Christine Letts writes:

In academia, there is currently a movement toward using the feminine pronoun at all times.

I wonder why that is. I came across several examples on papers I read, but the only one I can remember at the moment is a book: Seth Godin's Linchpin. While some might not be comfortable labeling it as part of academia, it suits my point perfectly. Every time he refers to a person, he uses the feminine pronoun.

User Senseful writes the following, potentially identifying affirmative action as the precursor for this trend.

I remember reading somewhere that it was recommended to use the opposite of what most people stereotype the profession as. So, for example, when talking about a chiropractor, you would use "her", and when talking about a secretary, you would use "his".

So, where do you think this trend comes from?

  • 6
    There is a better word than “generic pronoun”. It is typically called a gender-neutral pronoun.
    – F'x
    Jun 4, 2011 at 9:30
  • 2
    I use "he" actually (and kind of always seen that)...
    – Alenanno
    Jun 4, 2011 at 9:57
  • 9
    @victoriah, @Marcin: OP was offering a potential explanation, while being unaware of the actual one. As such, OP reached out to the only community he knew which could help him. OP regrets his English skills weren't enough to convey the right tone. Jun 4, 2011 at 17:18
  • 2
    All over the book I mentioned, there are sentences of the likes of «If you have an employee, and she does this and that, then it's her responsibility to that and this.» Jun 5, 2011 at 17:55
  • 4
    I think this is a perfectly valid question. He hasn't answered his own question - he has shown his own research, something highly encouraged on this site. Furthermore, I don't detect any sort of tone of rant in the question.
    – Ste
    Jul 12, 2016 at 8:46

5 Answers 5


This practice began round about the time of the feminist movement in the late 20th century(c.1980-c.1990)

Taken from the Free Online Dictionary:

Usage Note: Using she as a generic or gender-neutral singular pronoun is more common than might be expected, given the continuing debate regarding the parallel use of he. In a 1989 article from the Los Angeles Times, for instance, writer Dan Sullivan notes, "What's wrong with reinventing the wheel? Every artist has to do so in her search for the medium that will best express her angle of vision." Alice Walker writes in 1991, "A person's work is her only signature."

Wikipedia notes why:

One response to this (use of generic pronoun he) was an increase in the use of generic she in academic journal

  • 1
    I can't assert wether this is actually a «correct answer», but sounds like a pretty solid explanation to me. Jun 4, 2011 at 10:29
  • I don't think she is gender-neutral but a kind of reparation.
    – TimR
    Feb 18 at 0:33

I wouldn't call it a trend, if by that you mean "something that's growing noticeably and is likely to become common"; I've seen it only sporadically. Calling a movement--meaning, some people are doing it, without specifying how many — is probably more accurate.

Where it came from philosophically is clear: from a desire to challenge stereotypes. Perhaps more interesting is where is it going — will it catch on?

As for "should be frowned on" — that's an aesthetic/political judgement. I can't see a basis for rendering an academic answer to that.

  • 11
    My mentioning frowning was due to my belief that this movement, as you call it, is moving from one end of the sexist axis to the other. What good is that? Jun 4, 2011 at 9:32
  • 9
    @Julio Santos, good point: basically, no good.
    – Thursagen
    Jun 4, 2011 at 9:43
  • 11
    It's not moving from one end of the sexist axis to the other. If we accept that the use of the male form of pronoun is acceptable because mention of one gender implies all others, then using the female form should be just as acceptable for the same reason. By using the female pronoun in this way, it provokes the question whether use of male forms is really neutral.
    – Marcin
    Jun 4, 2011 at 10:00
  • 14
    Using the male form pronoun is acceptable since it's now consuetudinary. Using the female one is making a point — a sexist point. Jun 4, 2011 at 10:15
  • 8
    @Júlio Santos: You seem to imply that something that's customary (I wouldn't use consuetudinary here as it's an obscure legal term, and 99% of people will never have heard it), that means it's not sexist. However, many practices now considered sexist were once customary, and the way that customs change is largely by people doing things differently! That said, I haven't seen the usage of she exclusively as a gender-neutral pronoun become common, though I have seen far more often is writers that try to use a mixture of both he and she. Perhaps the unusual she is more noticeable?
    – psmears
    Jun 4, 2011 at 11:56

The trend is a reaction to the cries for gender-neutrality and equity in technical writing. For example, this article says:

Regardless of what you may have been taught in grammar school, the use of masculine third-person pronouns (he/ him/ his/ himself) as generic pronouns is no longer acceptable to many people in business communication. Whatever your own intentions may be, some readers will regard this usage as insulting, insensitive, or at the very least, distracting.

And this one:

While it might be excessive to read history as if every general use of “man” is overtly sexist, today’s culture calls for alternatives.

There are many alternatives suggested by those articles and others, but one of them is to purposefully use "she":

For example, always use he/him/his in odd numbered chapters, and always use she/her/hers in even numbered chapters. This strategy does promote balance and has sometimes been used to good effect in textbooks, but it doesn't solve the real problem of distracting the reader.

Personally I find it very distracting, and also a bit silly. Singular "they" is a far better alternative.


I have found myself using 'one' when gender is unknown - it does sound very old-school, but that way no-one can get offended.

One is a pronoun in the English language. It is a gender-neutral, indefinite pronoun, meaning roughly "a person". For purposes of verb agreement it is a third-person singular pronoun, although it is sometimes used with first- or second-person reference. It is sometimes called an impersonal pronoun. It is more or less equivalent to the French pronoun on, the German man, and the Spanish uno. It has the possessive form one's and the reflexive form oneself.

  • 1
    Consider the sentence: "One should use the color he likes the most'. It returns us back to the same dilemma.
    – Dany
    Jun 1, 2017 at 13:23
  • @Dany The color that one likes most, should be used! But yeah one cannot solve all the problems... Jun 1, 2017 at 15:18
  • 1
    I also like to use they (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they). 'One' and 'they' sound all right to me. I have to point out, however, that my native language is gender-neutral and therefore I've always felt awkward using gender-specific pronouns in other languages.
    – user227202
    Aug 9, 2017 at 8:43

This use of "she" is virtually universal in American science writing now. The style in my youth was to reflect reality. Now it is to influence reality. Whether science should reflect values conflicting with observed facts (roughly, "truth") is an issue in itself. Also, there is the question of what actual effect is achieved, if any. The more forced the example, the more insincere and ironic the perceived tone. Given those caveats, the answer to the question is that this is the modern style, certainly inspired by the feminist movement, and if a writer wishes to avoid suggestions of misogyny she should conform.

  • 6
    I believe we need some sort of evidence for grand claims such as "virtually universal in American science writing". Feb 19, 2016 at 18:38

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.