A 1982 Government of Canada document entitled "Elimination of Sexual Stereotyping"1 defines sexual stereotyping as "the use of words, actions, and graphic material that assigns roles or characteristics to people solely on the basis of gender, and without regard for the intrinsic potentials of women and men" and goes on to state that it is the policy of the Government to eliminate sexual stereotyping from all government communications.
Given that communications have a cumulative impact on people’s perceptions, behaviour and aspirations, that most communications reach an audience composed equally of women and men, and that women are the prime target of sexual stereotyping, the document provides a number of guidelines for written communications.
In 1990, the Government of Canada issued "Fair Communication Practices,"2 guidelines to eliminate sexual stereotyping and to ensure the fair and representative depiction of ethnic and visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities. The guidelines are based on the principle that "all individuals, irrespective of gender, ancestry and ethnic origin or disability, are and must be portrayed as equally productive and contributing members of Canadian society." They are intended to help correct biases and stereotypes that constitute barriers to full participation in society. In practical terms, they require that material "be reviewed to eliminate words, images and situations that reinforce erroneous preconceptions or suggest that all or most members of a racial or ethnic group have the same stereotypical characteristics."
This chapter lists many of the stereotyping problems covered in the two federal government documents and in other pertinent material, and shows how those problems can be solved. The objective in each case is to ensure the equal treatment of men and women in written material, to depict all individuals as fully participating members of society, and to eliminate preconceived ideas about their functions and attributes.
Ultimately, the issue boils down to one of courtesy and respect for all, regardless of gender, origin or disability.
The form preferred or used by the person being addressed or referred to should be retained if it is known. Otherwise, the following guidelines should be applied in order to ensure uniform and equal treatment of the sexes.
Dear Ms. Samuels:
Dear J. D. Simmonds:
Where the name of the addressee is not known, use the form "Dear Sir/Madam" or "Dear Madam or Sir."
Dear Members of the Rotary Club:
To the Consumer Relations Department:
To whom it may concern:
An alternative is to use the memo format and omit the salutation.
See also 10.17 Salutation or greeting.
When the names of a woman and man are mentioned together, use parallel language so that men and women are portrayed as equals:
Ensure parallel treatment of couples:
Ensure parallel treatment of work associates:
Alternate order of reference so that one sex is not always given second place:
In distribution and other lists, use alphabetical order or list according to rank.
Because English lacks a singular pronoun that signifies the non-specific "he or she," customarily the masculine pronoun has been used. The following guidelines help to avoid this usage.
The section chief is responsible for maintaining good relations with clients and ensuring that deadlines are met.
The section chief is responsible for maintaining good relations with his clients. He ensures that deadlines are met.
An employee must file a grievance within the prescribed time limit. The employee’s union representative will usually be involved at this stage of the process.
An employee must file a grievance within the prescribed time limit. His union representative will usually be involved at this stage of the process.
All responsibility centre managers must prepare their own work plans.
Each responsibility centre manager must prepare his own work plans.
the incumbent’s duties not his duties
his or her duties not his (or her) duties
Send two copies of your academic record to the Human Resources Officer.
The applicant must send two copies of his academic record to the Human Resources Officer.
Develops, implements and evaluates programs to improve information services; directs research in information resource management.
Avoid using feminine or masculine pronouns to personify animals, events, ships, etc.:
Eliminate titles and terms which suggest that a job is not typically performed by persons of either sex or that the task varies depending on whether the incumbent is a woman or a man. As far as possible, job titles should not imply that the job can be filled only by members of one sex.
Avoid using the generic man to refer to people in general and, where possible, as part of a compound:
Unless a minor is referred to or you wish to evoke refinement or high standing, use woman, not girl or lady:
All people, including women as individuals or as a group, should be treated with respect and dignity. To this end they should be depicted as living and working in a variety of circumstances and assuming a broad range of responsibilities.
Dr. and Mrs. Rolfe
Dr. Erica and Mr. John Bruce
Dr. Rolfe and his charming blonde wife Dora
Mr. John Bruce and his doctor wife
Parent and child
Mother and child
People (or Families) are suffering increasingly from the burden of taxation.
Men and their families are suffering increasingly from the burden of taxation.
Professionals, their spouses and their children
Professionals, their wives and their children
the average worker
the average wage-earner
the average working man
Eliminate and avoid expressions which cloud the fact that all attributes may be found in all groups: for example, "inscrutable Orientals," "frugal Scots" or "lazy Mexicans."
Certain modifiers reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes by giving information that suggests an exception to the rule. Avoid them:
Be cautious in using adjectives that, in certain contexts, have questionable racial or ethnic connotations or insulting, often racist overtones, such as primitive, conniving, savage, lazy, backward, culturally deprived, simple, and clannish.
Be aware of the current self-identification preferences of racial and cultural groups in Canada:
Note that the term African American is gaining currency in the U.S.A.
Note also that the terms used to designate the Indigenous peoples of Canada have undergone considerable change in recent years. Although the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, uses the term aboriginal peoples in the lower case, the words Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native have since come to be capitalized when used in the Canadian context. The terms currently preferred are the following:
People with disabilities should be depicted as living and working in a variety of circumstances with a range of responsibilities, and as active participants in events. They should be identified by their achievements rather than their limitations.
The whole range of human characteristics and attributes applicable to non-disabled persons should be shown to apply to persons with disabilities.
Do not define people by their disorders or use dehumanizing stereotypes, such as "the disabled," "the blind," "the retarded."
Avoid language that suggests characteristics of courage, suffering, pity or abnormality, such as brave, inspirational, victim, special, incompetent or defective. Use factual rather than emotional terms:
Avoid condescending euphemisms like "physically challenged" and "differently abled."
Use precise words when describing disabilities. The degree of impairment must be taken into consideration:
© Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2017
TERMIUM Plus®, the Government of Canada's terminology and linguistic data bank
Writing tools – The Canadian Style
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