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Reason for the current trend to use «she» as the gender-neutral pronoun?
Can the feminine pronouns be gender-neutral?
Is there a correct gender-neutral, singular pronoun (“his” versus “her” versus “their”)?

Programmer here. I am confused with the usage of the term "She/he" when referring a prementioned and undefined user. Below is a sentence found from MSDN magazine:

"When the user decides to create a new customer, she must fill in the data entry form in Figure 2."

I myself use the term "She/he" is this context, since without mentioning both can be regarded as gender discrimination, and placing 'she' before 'he' is respecting the ladies.

So, can I just use 'She' in this context, that will save some typing.

  • 2
    Don’t use she/he, and don’t use she unless you know the antecedent is guaranteed to be female, like with pregnant mothers. Use they like everybody else does, or he if it is a distinct male or you just cannot help yourself. You’d best check your spelling of *refering, too; we don’t need anymore HTTP_REFERER fiascos.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 3:38
  • Spelling corrected.
    – kennyzx
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 4:06
  • I do use they when talking about 'users', it is just that it is talking about only one user: When a user decides..., is using 'they' still syntactically acceptable?
    – kennyzx
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 4:12
  • Yes, it is syntactically acceptable, but whether it is politically acceptable is another matter altogether. See nohat’s answer here for more.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 4:15

3 Answers 3


Most people, until recently, preferred the use of masculine pronoun. But with the rise of female writers, feminist literatures, and feminist movements, the trend has changed dramatically, with many writers inclined toward the use of feminine gender.

That said, the use of he/she is a bit awkward and is better avoided. From the other two, it doesn't matter which one to choose as long as you are consistent.

  • Actually, he/she is not only obscenely awkward, it does not occur in speech at all, so is useless. The problem with using she is that doing so makes people think that you are talking about a specific female, but you aren’t. The reason not to use he, if you follow that line of thinking, is that does this now makes people think you are talking about a specific male, but you still aren’t. Dunno that this is due to femininism though. Someone using the very popular singular they does so to intentionally make it nonspecific, somebody they don’t know and you don’t either.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 3:52
  • I agree he/she is just annoying and awkward. I have seen, as Noah has suggested, many instances of authors especially when referring to people of a particular profession (like engineers and programmers) that have been traditionally dominated by males as 'she' as if to say, "See, I am giving equal opportunity to women here".
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 4:10
  • 3
    @tchrist You probably don't use in speech too, but that doesn't make it useless.
    – apaderno
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 4:21
  • I say "he or she" all the time, but I say it quickly, as if it's only one word. So the best way to write what I say is probably "he/she".
    – user16269
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 8:40
  • @DavidWallace: Could be, but most writers don't use that combination. I am sure there's nothing wrong with it, but it definitely is rather overly descriptive and a bit awkward.
    – Noah
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 5:29

I have observed a tendency in technical communications to alternate between using 'she' and 'he'. It is even suggested (though not necessarily recommended) in this article and this other one as a solution to "The Pronoun Problem":

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.

This question has some other answers about addressing "The Pronoun Problem" with other gender-neutral alternatives.

  • 2
    + 1. I too find it distracting because it is so obviously an attempt to get around a problem that isn't a problem at all if you use 'they'. We all use 'you', as I have just done, when we don't specifically mean the person we are addressing, and no one seems bothered about that. For a thorough discussion of singular 'they', see: crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 7:06

Avoiding filler helps avoid this problem. Your example sentence could be more to the point, like this, "To create a customer [record] the user completes form xyz."

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