The New York Times Just Took A Huge Step For Gender-Neutral Language

Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images.
The next time grammar sticklers try to correct you for using gender-neutral language, tell them you've got The New York Times and The Washington Post on your side.

In an article published last week, the Times used the gender-neutral singular pronoun "Mx.," instead of the masculine or feminine "Mr." or "Ms.," to refer to Senia Hardwick, a staff member at New York's activist bookstore Bluestockings. Hardwick, a self-identified anarchist, prefers not to be identified by gendered pronouns.

But don't expect to see "Mx." pop up in every Times article you read. Philip B. Corbett, the Times' associate managing editor for standards, told Refinery29 that it's too soon for the paper to adopt any "clear-cut style guidelines" about gender-neutral pronouns.

"Our approach on style decisions is generally to follow accepted, settled usage, not to make the rules," Corbett told Refinery29. "But in referring to people who don't identify as male or female, I think usage is still evolving, and there's not one settled or widely recognized set of guidelines."

In addition to the Times' use of "Mx.," The Washington Post's Bill Walsh has announced that the newspaper will allow journalists to use "they" in a singular format, to refer to "people who identify as neither male nor female." In a letter to the Post's newsroom, obtained by Poynter, Walsh explained that when switching sentences to plural forms (to avoid gendered pronouns as well as grammatical errors) isn't possible, "'the singular 'they' is permissible."

Though there may not be official journalistic guidelines for gender-neutral pronouns, "Mx." is making strides in recognition. The term was added to Dictionary.com earlier this month, and it's being considered as an addition to the Oxford English Dictionary, according to The New York Observer.

"In the meantime, we just have to discuss situations case by case," Corbett told Refinery29. "The two main goals are to be respectful to those we write about, and to be clear to our readers."
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