SEM encourages the use of non-sexist language in all of its
publications. The following guidelines were provided by the Society for Music
Theory (see http://societymusictheory.org/administration/committees/csw/non-sexist-language).
In affirmation of its belief that language
which includes women and treats both sexes fairly should characterize all its
publications, the Society for Music Theory recommends the following guidelines
to contributors to the SMT Newsletter, Music Theory Spectrum, and Music Theory
Online. These guidelines have been drawn up jointly by the Committee on the
Status of Women and the Publications Committee. They offer strategies for
avoiding irrelevant gender distinctions in language.*
The word "man" is inherently ambiguous. It can mean: (a) a human
being; (b) human beings as a group or race; or (c) a male human being. Useful
alternatives to "man," when it is meant to signify the first of
these, are: human, person, individual. For the second, consider: men and women,
humankind, humanity, humans or human beings, people. Expressions that
incorporate "man" can be revised: "working hours" for
"manhours"; "synthetic" or "artificial" for
"man-made." "Chair" is really the best substitute for
"chairman"; neither "chairwoman," which focuses pointlessly
on gender, nor "chairperson," a clumsy neologism, is a very good
A pronoun agrees with its antecedent in number and gender. The English language
lacks gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns, a circumstance that has
defined "he," "his," and "him" as generic
indicators of both men and women. Although such usage is correct grammatically,
it suggests to readers, if only subliminally, that the reference is only to
males. Faced with this problem, the writer has several options:
in the plural. For example, instead of "Each subject was instructed to
hand in his exercise after ten minutes' work," say "Subjects were
instructed to hand in their exercises...." Recasting in the plural is also
preferable to violating traditional canons of grammar by following a singular
antecedent, such as "someone" or "everybody," with
"they," "them," or "their." For example,
"When everyone contributed their perceptions about meter in this
passage" is better expressed as "When all participants contributed
omit or replace a troublesome possessive pronoun. For example, change
"Every member of the Society is invited to express his opinion on this
topic" to "Every member of the Society is invited to express an
opinion...," or "A composer chooses his phrase structures according
to..." could become "A composer chooses phrase structures according
opening subordinate clauses that present a noun subject so that the noun begins
the principal clause. For example, "When a Schenkerian theorist moves from
foreground to middleground, she must..." can become "The Schenkerian
theorist, upon moving from foreground to middleground, must...," or, for
"If a set theorist circles his nexus sets on the score, he soon discovers
that...," substitute "A set theorist who circles nexus sets on scores
soon discovers that..."
in the passive voice. "Each committee chair should submit his report by
September 1" can be replaced by "Committee reports should be
submitted by September 1."
using "one." "He might well wonder what his response should
be" could become "One might well wonder how to respond."
the first (or second) person instead of the third person. For instance,
"When the listener encounters this phrase, he will be struck by the sudden
shift in the harmonic rhythm" could be reworded to read: "When we
encounter this phrase, we will be struck by the sudden shift..."
Not all of these will work under all
conditions. The passive voice and "one," in particular, become
wearisome if overused, and repeated recourse to the first or second person,
singular or plural, can all too easily generate a cozy or folksy tone that is
at times inappropriate to scholarly prose. If none of the alternatives listed
above seems appropriate, completely rewriting the passage in question may be
the best solution.
"His or her," "she/he," and other such formations are
recommended only as a last resort. Used once, they will probably have to be
used again, with eventually disastrous impact upon the smooth flow of prose.
women and men in the same way. Special forms to indicate women are usually
unnecessary. Words and phrases such as "authoress,"
"poetess," "coed," "lady conductor," "woman
professor," and "concertmistress" are better rendered as
"author," "poet," "student," "conductor,"
"professor," and "concertmaster" respectively.
writers would do well to avoid the identifications of roles or jobs as
gender-specific, as in the following sentence: "Professors sometimes
become so involved in their work that they neglect their wives and
children." This would be more accurately stated as: "Professors
sometimes become so involved in their work that they neglect their
parallel usage for both women and men. In referring to publications by two
holders of the Ph.D., for example, cite the work of "Dr. Ruth Adams and
Dr. John Hatcher," not "Mrs. Ruth Adams and Dr. John Hatcher."
Instead of saying "This phenomenon was first noted by Prof. John Smith of
Central University; later, Mary Jones developed...," refer to
"Professor John Smith" and "Professor Mary Jones," or
"John Smith" and "Mary Jones," depending on the circumstances.
terms that are often used in writing about music unfortunately embed sex-role
stereotypes. It is not usually a great problem to avoid or rephrase these; for
instance, "masculine ending" and "feminine cadence" are
easily rendered as "metrically accented ending" and "metrically
unaccented cadence" respectively, without loss of clarity.
Exclusionary language in a direct quotation
Writers are urged to consider alternatives to incorporating such quotations
into their own prose. For instance, might the quotation appear instead in
paraphrase, or as an indirect quotation?
* These guidelines are partially based on two publications: "Guidelines
for Nonsexist Use of Language in NCTE [National Council of Teachers of English]
Publications"; Wendy R. Katz, Her and His: Language of Equal Value. A
Report of the Status of Women Committee of the Nova Scotia Federation of
University Faculty Associations on Sexist Language and the University, with
Guidelines (Halifax, 1981). For further reading, see Francine Wattman Frank
and Paula A. Treichler, Language, Gender, and Professional Writing (New
York: Modern Language Association of America, 1979), which includes 42 pages of
bibliography. See also Casey Miller and Kate Swift, The Handbook of
Nonsexist Writing: For Writers, Editors, and Speakers (New York: Harper,