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What is Gender Sensitivity?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Gender sensitivity is the act of being aware of the ways people think about gender, so that individuals rely less on assumptions about traditional and outdated views on the roles of men and women. In language and the humanities, this is often expressed through people’s language choice. People can choose more inclusive language that doesn’t define gender, and many new words that are gender neutral have entered languages like English to substitute for more gender specific terms.

For centuries, many words referring to all people were specifically masculine. Terms like “man,” and “mankind,” which are used to describe all human beings, exclude females. While some people argue that such terms do include women, it’s been argued that these words have a belittling effect on women. True gender sensitivity, it is said, moves past these terms to include all and exclude none.

It is further contended by experts that the use of such terms is by no means innocent, and they have a negative cultural effect felt beyond the words. By making women either absent or non-apparent in terms like “mankind,” they become worth less and society will see them as possessing less value. This societal view in extreme forms is of detriment and corresponds to discrimination and even, arguably, things like greater violence against women.

In language and the humanities, this argument is accepted and a number of substitute words like “humankind,” express the gender sensitivity of the present. In the late 1980s, when Star Trek: The Next Generation began to air, a noted and more gender sensitive substitution differed from the original series. The opening narration changed so that “where no man has gone before,” become “where no one has gone before,” with a great deal of emphasis on the word “one.”

Some feminists suggest changing basic words with a masculine element to those with a specifically feminine element. Terms like “herstory” have been proposed for “history.” This substitution merely transfers the power from masculine to feminine, however, disregarding the male gender. A common compromise is to use gender-neutral terms so that males and females are both included.

Such terms can be obvious, like firefighter and police officer, in place of fireman or policeman. Pronouns are often considered carefully, too, and writers may take several tactics to remain gender neutral. They may oscillate back and forth between male and female pronouns, use plural pronouns that lack gender bias, or they use terms like “one.” Being gender sensitive with pronoun choice often takes work.

At the core of gender sensitivity in language is the goal of stripping away assumptions about limits of gender, and this benefits men and women. A stay at home parent isn’t automatically a mom, but can be a dad too. Such sensitivity from a language basis offers more choice and gives people the opportunity to view each other as individuals with different capacities, shedding assumptions about the traditional roles men and women may fill.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon999736 — On Mar 06, 2018

A lot to learn and unlearn with the gender issues. Some will lose heaven indeed.

By anon996763 — On Oct 12, 2016

Just a question, how will you provide a gender sensitivity environment inside the classroom?

By anon962094 — On Jul 22, 2014

Women become submissive to men because of gender insensitivity in the way children are raised in the family, especially in many Asian countries. Men are allowed to have adventures while women are restricted in what they do. That is why in a workplace it is okay for women to be led by men because of the double standard they have observed.

By anon354060 — On Nov 05, 2013

"Herstory" for "History"? Please -- the word "History" comes from the old greek "historiai" (Ἱστορίαι / Historíai), which means "inquiry." The Greek word comes from the indo-european root *wid (=to see, to know).

So it has nothing to do with "his" or "her."

By Bhutan — On Feb 19, 2011

Sneakers - There may be some men that might have a problem with it because they want to be the “A Night in shining armor” for the women.

They want to feel like they are providing for their family and that the women needs him. I think that the dynamic of a women earning more money might challenge the status quo and cause friction in a relationship.

I think that this is why so many Hollywood actors get divorced because both parties in the marriage have such high powered careers that neither one is willing to compromise for the sake of the relationship.

I think that too much time apart also damages the relationship because women need to talk and men need more intimacy in order to still feel connected. That is just my two cents regarding the gender roles.

By sneakers41 — On Feb 17, 2011

Sunny27 - I think that there is equality in the workforce and now many women are surpassing the earning potential that men have enjoyed.

More women than ever are the bread winners but I wonder how this effects the male ego. I wonder how many men are comfortable with the idea of a women making more money than them because career and earning potential is part of a man’s identity.

By Sunny27 — On Feb 15, 2011

Brickback - I agree but I don’t know what employer is going to offer six weeks off for paternity leave. I understand that there are gender issues like unequal pay that really irk women.

I think that the reason that more men earn more than women is because of their negotiation skills. Men are more aggressive negotiators while women are more subtle.

Many women tend to worry about how they will come across to the employer while men do not give it a second thought because to them it is just business.

There are exceptions but for the most part these gender communication differences do play a role in pay.

By BrickBack — On Feb 14, 2011

I agree that there are gender inequality issues. I think that men should be offered paternity leave along with women. They also have the right to be with their newborn baby.

Maternity leave is not just for recovering from childbirth, but to offer a special bonding opportunity for the mother and child. The fathers should have this too. Taking time off like this will make the father more productive because his mind is going to be on his child and not on work which is why it is best to offer some time off.

When my children were born, my husband saved up all his vacation time so that he could be with his children for the first few weeks of life. It was really worth it.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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