I recently read this answer. It was pretty good, except there were a couple of cases of gender bias being used. "He" was used instead of "They", the question didn't indicate any specific gender.

So I put in a very small edit to change this. This edit was rejected as

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."

I would argue that such changes to make the site "More accessible" as anyone reading the answer will not be steered to assume that programmers (the question was about programming) and their bosses are inevitably male.

I'm not advocating that we should do a mass edit to remove gender bias from everything, but I do think that edits, even minor ones, that improve it are constructive.

Is there a specific guideline on this either way?


I was specifically asking if there is a guideline about this. It would seem there is not.

I was not saying that the answer was deliberately biased. Gender bias is often done unconsciously. So calling it out in a comment would to me feel like overkill. Like someone adding a comment "Hey you used the wrong 'Their' could you correct."

We are happy for edits to fix spelling and grammatical errors. I would have thought removing bias where not needed would have been something in the same vein.

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    I agree with you, improving the answer by making it more neutral and therefor easier for someone to 'mentally' put themselves/'their situation' into the context of the answer seriously improves the quality of an answer. It's not policy that things should be gender neutral, but it is community culture that if an answer can be improved, it should be! So go for it. – TolMera Oct 27 '16 at 10:59
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    @TolMera No, we dont have an guideline so untill we do this is overstepping our defined bounds as it is editing the intent and context of the question. This is probeply also the reason why we dont have a guideline for this. Examples of editing guidelines: removing thank you notes. Improving readability, adding or removing synthax. – Raoul Mensink Oct 27 '16 at 11:06
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    In English "He" and "She" are singular while "they" is plural. If we edit every question and answer to change all instances of "He/She" to "they" it will read very poorly for the English-speaking audience. Just leave them alone. – Joe Strazzere Oct 27 '16 at 11:27
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    @JoeStrazzere "They" can also be singular. I don't think it would affect readability in a noticeable way. – Kaz Oct 27 '16 at 12:05
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    @Kaz - English is a tortured language: wsj.com/articles/…. I think replacing instances of "he" or "she" with "they" will make questions and answers less clear, if perhaps more gender-neutral. So do we prefer clarity? Or do we prefer gender-neutrality? In my writing I strive for gender-neutrality where I can. But above all, I strive for clarity. – Joe Strazzere Oct 27 '16 at 12:18
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    @Jeremy French Just going to point out, the original post does use gender-specific pronouns at least once. "This is not my first time ... only to have him leave suddenly". This is why I recommend not unilaterally changing other peoples' posts and leaving a comment instead. Accurately judging somebody's intent is tricky at best. – Kaz Oct 27 '16 at 12:26
  • You can always say "I notice you used he/she even though the OP never specified the gender of the person involved?" or words to that effect. It doesn't have to come across as "You're wrong. Fix it!" – Kaz Oct 27 '16 at 12:59
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    @kaz, I'm not so forgiving when the word "bias" is used in the question. It's the old "So, do you still beat your wife" style of loaded question. – Old_Lamplighter Oct 27 '16 at 13:24
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    Yes I think gendered language re enforces gender stereotypes. pss.sagepub.com/content/7/3/136.short – Jeremy French Oct 27 '16 at 14:33
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  • Just curious, but since you're so convinced of yourself, why didn't you use "xe" or "ne" or "ve", if you're that concerned? How do you make sure you cover all 63 genders apath.org/rede/23.html – Old_Lamplighter Nov 1 '16 at 21:36

There's no guideline to specifically support edits that only change gender. There is a guideline not to make trivial edits. That's because editing bumps a post, and -- especially for older posts that aren't already on the front page -- you should only do that when there's an actual improvement involved.

I, like @JoeStrazzere in the comments, prioritize clarity. I don't deliberately write in a gendered way, but "he" is a valid neutral pronoun and "they" is grammatically plural and thus jarring regardless of what many people do. I would reject an edit that reduces clarity in this way too.

If you instead rewrote the phrase to not require a pronoun, that would be different. I've found that in most cases you can rewrite to avoid the problem, and if you care enough about use of "he" then the burden is on you, the editor, to change it without breaking the post in other ways.

Editors must be careful not to put words in the author's mouth. That includes not introducing errors. The argument over "singular 'they'" has been both long and heated; you can reasonably expect someone to object to either changing "he" to "they" or changing "they" to "he" (or changing any of those to "zie"). So don't do that to people; either find an uncontroversial way to make the change or just leave it alone. The Internet is full of people who write differently than you or I do, and trying to sanitize the Internet to one's own personal taste is a doomed proposition.

  • The only problem is that the very question here is begging the question of whether there is bias in pronouns to begin with. – Old_Lamplighter Oct 27 '16 at 20:14
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    @RichardU the OP here asserts that, which is controversial. However, I figured I could answer the question about editing guidelines without taking that on. Even without bias, we know that some people are uncomfortable with grammatically-gendered pronouns, so if someone can make an edit to change that without breaking the post in other ways, that seems like a slight improvement even if I, personally, don't think it's necessary. But just swapping in "they" does not work; it replaces one issue with another. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 '16 at 20:38
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    I've had my own posts vandalized in this fashion. I find this newspeak to be beyond uncomfortable. So, do the OP's feels trump my intent? Can I claim that since I'm autistic, I can go around making changes on other posts based on what makes me uncomfortable, and that since I am uncomfortable, any changes are improvements? By the way, ff you know anything about autism, you know how long that list is? – Old_Lamplighter Oct 28 '16 at 7:49
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    @RichardU except in matters that are egregious (e.g. offensive flags would not be unexpected), the author has final say. If you don't like an edit to your post, you may roll it back. I've found that most of the time people don't seem to mind an edit of this sort, treating it as a collaborative effort to improve the site, but most != all. If the edit seems well-intentioned and you can understand why the person made it, then after you roll it back it'd be good if you could try to find some other way to address the concern. If you and the editor just disagree, though, you get to decide. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 '16 at 13:19
  • I did roll it back and was mad as a wet hen about it too. I'm just concerned that the practice doesn't become yielding the right of way to the one who claims to be the most offended. – Old_Lamplighter Oct 28 '16 at 14:21
  • @RichardU the least constructive part of all is interpreting an edit as vandalism. Assuming good intent and being less confrontational about posts is pivotal to building a constructive site. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:16
  • @MonicaCellio I think your first comment here sums up the entire issue very nicely, would you consider adding it as a footnote to your answer? – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:17
  • @DoritoStyle I started to, but I think I already said that. What specifically do you think should be added? – Monica Cellio Oct 30 '16 at 22:21
  • "Even without bias, we know that some people are uncomfortable with grammatically-gendered pronouns," and " if someone can make an edit to change that without breaking the post in other ways, that seems like a slight improvement even if I, personally, don't think it's necessary" are points that I resonate with strongly and I think it would benefit the conversation to give them more visibility. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 23:24
  • This discussion has been continued in chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 31 '16 at 14:26

A few thoughts. First, regarding gender, a comment from the OP makes it clear the gender of the coworker (emphasis mine):

I did try to contact the old programmer. He has moved on to a bigger, better project. Coincidentally, we were co-workers at another firm prior to this assignment, but we never met, we worked in different departments. He refused to talk to me about this project. I understand why. – Sensii Miller 17 hours ago edit

Second, the reason both rejected the comment was:

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.

The only change you suggested on a 4 month old answer was a slight pronoun difference. That's a very minor change with minimal value added to the answer.

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    To be fair, it's quite probably that Jeremy didn't see said comment, and it doesn't actually help answer the question under discussion, which is whether changing gender pronouns is a kind of edit that should be encouraged or not. – Kaz Oct 27 '16 at 12:35
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    @Kaz but that's ve's problem if they didn't read the question, then it's xe's own fault. (just including a few different pronouns in there in the hopes that one of them is right) – Old_Lamplighter Oct 27 '16 at 13:26
  • While relevant to the post referenced by OP, I agree that this doesn't answer the question at hand. To be certain, editing old posts is already discouraged right? – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:41

First of all, accusing members of the community of "bias" is probably violating the "be nice" principle of this site.

Second, your politics and your culture do not dictate what others may post or how they may post it.

Third, you have appointed yourself as censor. If you find a post to be rude or offensive, flag it for moderation.

Fourth, you may argue that your editing makes it "more accessible", but I noticed your ablist bias in assuming that the original poster was not autistic, and thus not suffering from the endemic rigid thinking of autism, and the triggering that changing one's post may cause. Acting unilaterally like this also demonstrates a clear micro-aggression against the OP.

Lastly, I noticed that you replaced "he" with "they", which is clearly not taking into account that the persons the OP is referring to may not prefer those pronouns. The persons may prefer "ne" or "xe" or "ve" instead of "they", so your "correction" has a severe bias of it's own.

In summation, don't bring your own biases to the table while accusing others of bias. It is not your call, and in doing so, you are disrupting SE. If the owners of this site want to come up with their own rules, they will do so. That is not your call.

  • For a post that decries braking the "be nice" policy, this one does so several times. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:30
  • Regarding your 3rd point, I don't think anybody is claiming that gendered pronouns are rude, only that they could be unintentionally muddying the waters or subtly discouraging female participation. Regarding your 4th point, that's pretty far off-topic for the issue at hand. We can work on multiple fronts to be more inclusive, but that doesn't mean we have to solve all of the problems at once, and especially not in one meta post Your last point about "ne" or "xe" or "ve" instead of "they" is really not constructive since it's completely disregards what's acceptable in modern discourse. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:33
  • "don't bring your own biases to the table while accusing others of bias." Is the only good piece of advice I see here, and it is a good one indeed. As far it being "not your call", that does not in any way mean that we shouldn't work to come to an understanding and update guidelines (which is somewhat outside the scope of the site owners), even if that means disrupting SE a bit (nobody ever said that this should be a perfect site free from disagreement). Apologies for spamming the post, I wanted to respond to each point made in kind. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:36

Somebody wrote an answer. You think their choice of words is less inclusive than it could be.

So far so good.

Then you go and change their answer for them.

IMO, this is overstepping your bounds.

Unless and until it becomes explicit SE policy or guidance that questions/answers should be gender-neutral where relevant, people are entitled to write their answers using any language they want.

By all means, leave a comment and suggest they change it, but it's up to the poster to decide if it would affect the intent/meaning of their answer and if they want to change it.

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    I disagree with this. The SE model is that if you think a question or answer can be improved while keeping the original intent of the author, you suggest an edit. If the author agrees they can automatically approve it, or if the author opposes the change they can roll it back. Now, whether making a post more gender neutral is an improvement or not is a different question entirely. – David K Oct 27 '16 at 12:05
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    @DavidK IMO, changing gender pronouns is, by definition, changing the meaning of a post. Whether it changes the intent of the poster is something only the poster knows and can judge. I would always err on the side of not changing somebody else's post. Saying the OP can edit it back later isn't a good reason for doing it in the first place. – Kaz Oct 27 '16 at 12:07
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    Unless gender is relevant to the question/answer, then changing the gender is not changing the intent of the post, IMO. That's why the example edit was rejected for making no substantial improvement and not for actively conflicting with the author's intent. – David K Oct 27 '16 at 12:10
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    @DavidK Judging whether gender is relevant is one of those issues which is highly polarising and a frequent source of conflict. Encouraging people to unilaterally change posts based on their own interpretation of what's "right" or "relevant" or "the best way" is, IMO, only going to encourage problems. Hence why I say that, in the absence of any specific guidance, it's best to err on the side of caution. – Kaz Oct 27 '16 at 12:18
  • @DavidK Changing the gender that the OP wanted to put is clearly changing the intent of the user. Someone did do that to one of my posts and I went back and changed every last "they" back to "he". I'd go into more detail, but cannot without violating the "be nice" policty – Old_Lamplighter Oct 27 '16 at 13:38
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    @RichardU speaking in absolutes and saying that something is "clearly" this way or that is hugely irresponsible. Issues, especially sensitive ones like gender, have large amounts of nuance, and it could certainly be possible to clarify a post while removing gender references. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:26
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    In responce to the need for a specific guideline to justify different types of edits; I think that's being far too draconian. The Guidelines would have to be almost as large as the site itself! We probably won't agree about being able to infer gender-related intent in a post, but I do think members of this community are capable of such judgements. – user30031 Oct 30 '16 at 21:29
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    Reminder: discuss positions not people. Personal attacks are not ok and have been deleted. – Monica Cellio Oct 31 '16 at 12:56

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