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This answer to this question has an edit in peer review where the "he or she" wording has been replaced with "he" since the pronouns in the question for the boss are he/him.

Given the new CoC is trying to be inclusive, especially with pronouns, what are best practices for questions/answers like these? The original answer made things more neutral ("he or she") which would keep things general for the public overall. However, the question had a specified gender, so is the edit correct?

I guess the question boils down to, do we want to keep things neutral and general for all future readers by using "he or she" (or ideally "they" imo) or do we want to answer with the specified pronouns in the question?

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The 'new' CoC isn't actually that different, and I don't think we need to change many things here. Remember even the old CoC already had a clause about 'language likely to alienate people'. Writing like you don't know someone's pronouns, while they are known, can have an alienating effect. In the same way, using he/she pronouns when talking about people whose gender you don't know can have the same effect. (see also a bit further in this post about generic he/language barriers)

When a question refers to someone using a specific pronoun, use that to speak about this person in your answers and comments too.

We've always been doing this, including correcting people through edits. Usually, an edit summary that states 'the boss is referred to as she in the question, so I've matched the pronouns in your answer to that' does the trick.

If a question uses 'he', don't insist answers or comments refer to that person as he/she, (s)he, he or she. The edit was a good one, in this case, it removes some obscurity and makes the answer ever slightly easier to read.

I would also recommend against gender-neutral pronouns in answers/comments in cases like this, as it might obfuscate important details. When pronouns are known, use the ones that were used by the person asking the question.

As an added measure of conscience: If you're adding back up to your answers, consider if an indication of the gender of the person you're talking about is useful. If it is, please make sure we know, either through pronouns or fictional names. If irrelevant, feel free to use gender-neutral language.

Consider gender-neutral language when a question doesn't give you a hint who you're talking about, or when gender is irrelevant.

There are many dynamics that are influenced by gender, and stereotypes. But if you think it's not relevant, feel free to leave it out. We'll ask you in comments if we think our answers would benefit from knowing these details, or (ideally) disclose these dynamics in our answers if we feel they should be taken into account when applying our solutions to your problem.

In cases where gender is irrelevant or unknown, use neutral language. Singular they/them are the best option for neutral, English, pronouns.

As a community though, do consider there are actually older people out there who may not know what you know, who have always been taught to default to generic he. There may also be people whose native language defaults to male pronouns, and ESL speakers that get taught English this way too.

If you do decide their posts need editing, please be kind to these people, and try to structure your edit messages in such a way that these people won't feel chided or accused of being uninclusive/unwelcoming. You can use the same message I used above: "The question refers to X as 'they', I've made your answer match" will work better than "Making your post more inclusive/welcoming".

Using neutral language is also about more than just neutral pronouns! In a lot of languages without neutral pronouns equivalent to singular they, neutral language simply means:

  • you can avoid gendered nouns (fireman vs firefighter),
  • you can avoid he/she in favour of using nouns or names. (Dear Sir/Madam vs. Dear Customer vs. Dear Alice)
  • you can avoid he/she in favour of restructuring your sentence to avoid pronouns or make it plural. (The average student is worried about his grades vs. The average student worries about grades vs. Students worry about their grades)
  • you can avoid structures that emphasize sex-role stereotyping (Male nurse, woman doctor > both imply that the 'standard' nurse is female and the 'standard' doctor male).

I think as a community, everyone has always been doing well. The 'new' CoC shouldn't cause much reason for change here :)

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If the OP of the answer had written their answer like this, or made this edit, I think it'd be fine. The gender is clear, so you're free to use it.

However, someone else making this edit seems a bit like one of the reject options:

This edit does not make the post even a little bit easier to read, easier to find, more accurate or more accessible. Changes are either completely superfluous or actively harm readability.

If the OP of the answer chose to not specify gender, that's on them.

Now, an edit going the other way, where they edit out gender in a situation where gender isn't clear, I would say is perfectly acceptable--as they're fixing inaccurate information in the post.

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IMO, that should be the answerer choice. If someone is respecting the CoC then choosing to use the pronouns they want is up to them.

Also, I don't want to have to carefully re-read the question before I can approve or reject an edit.

In this specific case, when I saw that someone was changing all "he or she" by "he", I thought it was vandalism (because this kind of vandalism happened to one of my posts just yesterday) and I rejected the edit as such.

If I had re-read the question before approving or not edit. I would probably have rejected as "no improvement whatsoever". In this case, I don't really care if "he" or "he or she" is used, but I do believe that this decision should be up to the answerer and that the person who suggested the edit should have left a comment instead.

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I believe that suggested edit is mine, I also made this edit yesterday for similar reasons

I concede that these sorts of edits may not be the largest changes in the world, but the KEY reason I make these edits is that "he/she" is not inclusive enough in my opinion. I myself use they/them pronouns and I find myself liking the CoC changes more than the average SE meta user given it sits at negative 1428 at time of writing.

I see lots of people arguing that people should not be expected to use they/them at all and to my quite honest anger, arguments that the use of pronouns is somehow political

Use of correct pronouns or non gendered pronouns when not known is an issue that I am very passionate about and I believe that by making these small edits it might make a tangible difference - in part by showing that it is not the difficult change some make it out to be and part by simple exposure to it

Some additional info for clarification:

The original edit in question; the answer used "he/she" and "he" interchangibly, which is a tad confusing, I stuck with "he" because it is respecting known pronouns (though I do agree there is nothing inherently gendered about the question in general and "they" could also be used)

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    It might have been you, I wasn't paying attention to the name so much. :) I do agree with you, I'd like to see they/them used over he/she when the gender isn't specific. However, the scope of this question is if the gender is known do we still keep things neutral in our examples (as was originally written) or nah? Especially now that the new CoC seems to be throwing everyone's paradigms for a loop. – Lux Claridge Oct 16 at 16:08
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    As someone who uses "they/them" myself. I do perfectly agree with the idea of changing "he/she" to "they". In fact, I believe, I even accepted your other edit who was doing just that (and I probably would have accept this one if it were doing that). However, changing "he or she" to "he" is an entirely different thing in my opinion. – Ælis Oct 16 at 16:10
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    As someone who uses She/Her I also agree that "he or she" and he/she enforce the idea of a gender binary. they/them should be the preferred gender-neutral terminology. – AGirlHasNoName Oct 16 at 19:18
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To play devil's advocate to my other answer, the new CoC clearly states:

Use stated pronouns (when known).

The boss's pronouns are known. Thus, per the CoC, this post needs to be edited to use them.

  • (not sure I entirely agree with this, but I'll throw it up here to see how the community feels) – scohe001 Oct 16 at 16:25
  • This comment by Catja support the idea that using a general "they/them" for everyone is fine (as long as you switch if someone request it). – Ælis Oct 16 at 16:32
  • @Ælis The comment you are linking goes to a 404, unfortunately. – Randolph Carter Oct 26 at 10:19
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    @Randolp Yes, it was on the old FAQ. The new onebis much clearer about that anyway. – Ælis Oct 26 at 10:20
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The best practice for me was to delete every content of mine of which I was able to do so. This ensures that for those questions/answers/comments, the new CoC is followed perfectly, as claims about the empty set are always true (hopefully I don't get banned, because the same can be said for all of them violating the CoC as well).

In general I would refrain from creating any further content, as this bears concerning potential of causing harm to fellow users of this site and thus is a risk too serious to take lightly. Thank you for making this community better and being inclusive!

As for non-radical editing, if you insist on just making minor adjustments, I'd recommend abstracting everything to non-binary. This question is an excellent example of what sort of writing style one should aim for even in topics which might appear as if in need of differentiation by sex or gender. This way we can facilitate more general answers, instead of non-inclusive specific ones.

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    Please do not recommend people delete all their posts, this is considered vandalism. If anyone wants to remove their username from all content, the easiest way is to delete their profile (this meta post has more details). We're not going to ban anyone for having made a mistake in an old answer! We also aren't going to suspend users immediately for making a mistake now - most likely we'll just edit and/or ping you about it. The main thing you need to do is be willing to accept corrections (and not be rude, of course, which isn't new). – Em C Oct 25 at 13:31
  • I want to remove my content though, not my username, which is my right as author. According to the ToS, SE has any rights to republish my content if they so desire, which I will accept should that happen. Neither you nor Tinkeringbell are SE though. Unfortunately, your promises are entirely void, as the handling of Monica and the ongoing issue demonstrates clearly that not a rat's behind is given about due process or policy. I was always willing to accept corrections. Forcing bad-faith-assuming, illiberal newspeak however is not correction, it is the very vandalism you accuse me of. – Randolph Carter Oct 25 at 13:44
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    No, you gave permissions to SE when you posted it, as explained in the meta post I linked. Deleting won't actually remove it anyways; mods and users with enough rep will still see it and your name attached to it. And I am not accusing you of anything - I said anyone (not you specifically), and mistake (assuming good intent from that hypothetical person). – Em C Oct 25 at 13:50
  • The very first paragraph says The author can typically delete their own posts at will. Which I was doing and encourage others to do as well. What you assume does not matter, I care about what the policy assumes and SE has made it very clear with their actions how they see this. Don't sugarcoat this. – Randolph Carter Oct 25 at 13:55
  • I was referring to the section containing "If you posted a question that you regret posting", which discusses the license rights. – Em C Oct 25 at 14:01
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    Not sugarcoating, I just simply don't see the CoC resulting in drastic changes here. We already edit posts when the author used the wrong pronouns and the only times I recall it being an issue is when the OP responded with hostility to such corrections. If you are willing to accept edits and make corrections then you'll be fine. – Em C Oct 25 at 14:09
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    Just to try to clear up some misconceptions, the ToS doesn't actually guarantee you the right to delete your own content. But even if it did, this seems like a rather inefficient way of protesting the CoC. It's unlikely anyone will complain about CoC infractions on older posts and you're only hurting the community by vandalizing your content. – scohe001 Oct 25 at 14:29
  • @scohe001 I deleted most of it already, I know the ToS don't guarantee me the right, I never claimed that, so there is no need for clarification. SE has the right to republish anything I delete, but I am under no obligation to not delete. – Randolph Carter Oct 26 at 2:15
  • Ahh I was replying to "I want to remove my content though, [...] which is my right as author." I understand you feel strongly about this though, so I won't push you. – scohe001 Oct 26 at 2:58
  • @scohe001 Worded badly on my part, sorry. Replace by "which is entirely within my options as author". "Right" was meant as in user privilege, not in legal terms, which is of course a terrible choice of words when I then continue to talk about legal rights. – Randolph Carter Oct 26 at 3:10

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