Mass. House Advances ‘Gender-Neutral’ Bill

By Glen Johnson | July 24, 2008 | 8:56 AM EDT
Boston (AP) - The Massachusetts House of Representatives has given its initial approval to a bill that would require all future legislation be written in language that is gender neutral.

The one-paragraph bill says legislation should contain non-gendered phrases such as "he/she" or "his/her," instead of following past practice and using the masculine pronoun by default.

The legislation was inspired when Rep. Cory Atkins, a Democrat, read a bill related to nursing more than a year ago and noticed all the masculine pronouns.

"If you're a guy, you think this is no big deal. And if you're a woman, you're insulted, considering we're 52 percent of the population," said Atkins.

Atkins still remembers how incredulous it was to read masculine pronoun in a bill related to nursing.

"I thought I must have picked up the wrong legislation because it was all, `he' this, `he' that, when nursing is predominantly a female profession," she said.

Other states have adopted a similar practice, and at least a half-dozen have amended their constitutions to install gender-neutral language.

Maine changed its drafting standards in 1988 to adopt gender-neutral language, with exceptions for bills singling out men or women in some context. The standards also offer a series of preferred terms to avoid gendered language.

"Alderman," for example, is replaced by "municipal officer."

A law professor said the proposed change is part of a trend in the business and legal professions. It's been propelled, in part, by the rise of female executives.

"There are a lot more women attorneys today than there were 20 or 30 years ago. And there are a lot more men than there were 20 or 30 years ago who would be offended if they thought something was targeted at men only instead of men and women," said Richard Bales, a professor at the Northern Kentucky University law school who has written on the topic.

Bales added: "You should avoid even the possibility of offending someone by redrafting the language. It's not that hard to do."

The Massachusetts bill was sent to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading on Wednesday, meaning it could come back for a vote before the full chamber at any time.
Members expect support in the Senate, where Therese Murray serves as the first female president in the chamber's history.
The Massachusetts House has given initial approval to a bill that would require all future legislation to be written in non-gendered phrases such as &quot;he/she&quot; or &quot;his/her.&quot;<br style="mso-special-character: line-break" />