After I was on Marketplace Money last week to talk about bad bosses, apparently they got some letters asking why I kept referring to all bad bosses as “she.” Here’s the transcript from their follow-up this week:
DEB CLARK: So other people who wrote in about this segment made note to the fact that our guest, Alison Green, kept referring to bad bosses as “she.” Tracey Powling from Indianapolis, Ind. that was an unfair association.
TRACEY POWLING: There are plenty of bad male bosses out there. I recently worked for one who would write me up for his mistakes. What makes it worse, this boss owned the company.
TESS VIGELAND: Couldn’t agree more and in fact, I did ask about that during the interview. It ended up on the cutting room floor, but I did point out to Alison that she kept talking about women bosses. And so I asked if there was a difference in how you should deal with a male or female boss.
ME: I don’t know that there’s a dramatic gender difference. I always try to be sort of gender neutral when I’m in the workplace and forget that I’m a woman. Because I don’t want people dealing with me as a woman first.
VIGELAND: Yup, amen.
I should probably explain this, because I do it in my writing here too (as some of you have commented on from time to time). In fact, I do it in my writing everywhere.
I hate having to write out “he or she” every time. It’s unwieldy. And saying “they” when you’re talking about one person is gender-neutral but grammatically incorrect. And when you pick “he” or “she” randomly, people read all kinds of things into which gender you use when. “S/he” is an option, but it feels like an abbreviation rather than a real word and I think it interrupts the flow of text.
A few years ago, when I was writing Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results with my co-author, the fantastic Jerry Hauser, we ran into this and just settled on using “she” throughout the book. There have been centuries of people using “he” similarly, after all, and it feels kind of nice to push a female presence into language since women were left out of it for so long.
That got “she” ingrained in my head, and now I use it automatically when I write. And apparently I also do it when I talk, as evidenced by that Marketplace interview.
But my use of “she” shouldn’t be construed as anything other than an attempt to resolve the “he/she” conundrum that has plagued writers for years. I don’t think there’s a single behavior that only women do in the workplace, or that only men do. (There may be broad patterns, particularly historically, but generalizations become a lot less relevant when you’re dealing with real individual people. God knows there are plenty terrible bosses of both genders.)
And frankly, having done this for years now, I think having everyone just use their own gender as their generic pronoun makes a lot of sense and could solve the whole problem.