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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • "He" is not gender neutral.

    To put my pedant hat on, I must point out that dictionarys do in fact indicate a gender neutral definition for "he". My Concise Oxford, for example, says "a person ... of unspecified sex".

    I wouldn't deny for a moment that such meanings are considered dated now. It's pretty hard to overlook the obvious male bias in the word. As both you and Adam point out, the English language lacks a comfortable alternative. Perhaps you'd like to coin one?

    There's a bit of a chicken-and-

    • I know that's what the dictionary says. I'd like it to still be true. But it's not what people envision. If I say to you "After the accident, the driver got out of his car. He swore about the damage.", that's a fairly different sentence than "After the accident, the driver got out of her car. She swore about the damage." Most people see 'he' and envision a man.

      Historically, using "he" as a gender neutral term made sense when the gender was irrelevant. This rarely applied to the upper class. If you spoke about a physician, scientist, mathematician it was (practically) always a man. If you spoke about a queen, concubine, duchess or lady it was clear she was a woman. There were clearly defined gender roles and so it was almost always obvious what you were talking about. It was only in the cases where gender wasn't of interest or importance (for example children, slaves, servants, peasants, street urchins, the lower class) that a gender neutral term was necessary.

      But the world is a very different place now. You can't tell someone's gender from their job title - even if it matters. You're still safe to assume that chances are reasonable that if it's a well paying job it'll be held by a young, white [asu.edu] man [double-helix.org]; but we're trying to balance that out. Which I think is an excellent thing.

      I'm not going to coin an alternative. Too many people have tried. There's sie and hir [wikipedia.org] which has some popularlity if you want that. What I really want is for people to be aware of what they write and to realise that it does make a difference in our field. Importantly, the women it is making a difference to aren't the ones who'll say something. Instead they'll just leave IT (or our communities) for less "ugly" jobs/communities. I know, because I've met them.

      I'm glad the guy I quoted was pulled up by someone else as well. I used his quote because it perfectly illustrated my point, not because I bear him any bad will.

      As for female speakers at PM groups, I think it's an international problem. I'm one of the three female speakers that Melbourne PM has had for the last 4 years (perhaps I've missed one, but I can't remember anyone else). We might have been lucky enough at OSDC [osdc.com.au] last year to get as many as 10% female speakers, but I suspect not.

      We're rare and I'm trying to fix that. Women are in IT. They are using Perl. I know this because they come on our training courses. But they're not part of our communities, they don't come to user groups. There are many reasons why not. Further the numbers of girls going into IT are declining! I want to be part of addressing both of these issues. Encouraging others to consider their language can't hurt.