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Published Date: March 27, 2008

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Published Date: March 27, 2008

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When Does Masculine-Only Language Apply to Both Genders?

The following is from the second paragraph of the United States’ Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The mention made of ‘men’ above refers to both men and women; right? Wrong! When Thomas Jefferson and those who helped him draft the Declaration of Independence wrote of governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, they did not include women. In fact, in 1787 they gave white male property owners over the age of twenty-one the right to vote, and they did not give the same right to women. That would have to wait until 1920.

One of the problems of using masculine-only language to inclusively represent the human race is the confusion over whether it refers to men alone, as in the Declaration of Independence above, or to men and women together. I know that some people say women know when masculine-only language applies to them, but I wasn’t always sure. I prefer gender-inclusive language because it specifically alerts me to when something includes women and when it doesn’t.

How about you? Do you ever have difficulty knowing when something includes women and when it doesn’t?

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