Commons talk:Use of gender neutral language

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See Commons:Village pump#Defaulting to gender neutral language in policies and help pages. --MichaelMaggs (talk) 19:28, 6 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

This seems to have been archived. Could a new link be posted to the current location of that discussion? Tduk (talk) 03:37, 25 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Tduk: It was archived to Commons:Village pump/Archive/2017/04#Defaulting to gender neutral language in policies and help pages.   — Jeff G. ツ 01:34, 4 May 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]


How about "If you want to use a picture, please ask the picture's photographer for permission first."?   — Jeff G. ツ 19:58, 6 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

✓ Done. Have simplified slightly to "If you want to use a picture, please ask the photographer for permission first." --MichaelMaggs (talk) 20:03, 6 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Can you think of a good way to phrase the question without a pronoun for a named person whose gender isn't known?

"If you want to use Michele Fontana’s picture, please ask their permission first". --ghouston (talk) 00:33, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Assuming 'Michele' is of unknown gender, either the wording you have suggested; or omitting the pronoun entirely, as unnecessary: "If you want to use Michele Fontana’s picture, please ask permission first"; or "Please ask first if you want to use Michele Fontana’s picture". --MichaelMaggs (talk) 03:29, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thanks, that seems obvious now you've said it. English often seems to get better the more words you delete. --ghouston (talk) 10:53, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I did not want to take this off track, as the no-pronouns version reads fine. However it may be worth capturing that although "ask their permission" and "ask them permission" are both gender neutral in English, if we were bouncing around translation guidelines the "their" case is probably a better starting point than "them", as "their" is a possessive that in translation may follow the gender of the object (permission) while "them" is a pronoun raising the issue of presuming a gender for the person.
Anyway, it's a really complicated area outside of my experience, but even thinking about it in the abstract makes me appreciate how helpful it would be to have sets of examples of how best to do this in various languages, and then those cases feedback into how we could encourage phrasing in English, to make our intended best practice more feasible to stick to and propagate across other language versions. -- (talk) 12:31, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The version without a pronoun does have the disadvantage that it doesn't say explicitly who you are supposed to ask for permission. Maybe somebody would think you ask Commons for permission, instead of the photographer. --ghouston (talk) 22:21, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I think we should be wary of giving into grammar extremism. There is always meaningfulness from context, and on the vast majority of occasions a clear sentence can be constructed. If recasting is truly problematic, I would encourage editors to take it to the talk pages and bounce around alternatives, even if this means leaving a version relying on "they" for an indefinite period. For the examples I've come across so far, I'd have to say that misinterpreting the meaning would take a wilful misreading, however I do accept that the result may not give a comfortable easy read, especially for long passages, or long compound sentences like this one. But that's more a question of good copy editing. :-) -- (talk) 22:43, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

If talking about individual users, then it might be worth a note to say that some users note their preferred pronouns on their user page (at least they do on en.wp and so I presume they do here). It is probably uncontroversial to recommend that if people have a strong preference regarding what pronouns people use for them that they note this on their userpage. Thryduulf (talk) 14:40, 9 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Good idea, I did that over nine years ago.   — Jeff G. ツ 00:30, 10 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Useful sources[edit]

English Wikipedia has a nice article en:Singular they. Should we include that under "Useful sources"? Commons isn't covered by en:WP:ASR.   — Jeff G. ツ 07:42, 12 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Don't think we need to as the article is already wikilinked within the text. --MichaelMaggs (talk) 07:59, 12 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Policy vs. guideline[edit]

Hi. I'm surprised to see that this ended up becoming a policy, rather than a guideline. When I !voted at Commons:Village_pump#Defaulting_to_gender_neutral_language_in_policies_and_help_pages there was no mention of this becoming a policy itself (just that it would apply to policies), and it seems to have crept into being a policy rather than a guideline somehow (it's not clear when/where). I much prefer keeping policies to a minimum (only the really big things), and for things like this being a guideline would seem more natural. Is there a reason why it is specifically a policy now? Thanks. Mike Peel (talk) 16:12, 12 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I don't feel strongly either way. The original proposal suggested that we should "adopt a principle" of gender neutrality, and that could as you say easily be by way of a guideline. What do others think? --MichaelMaggs (talk) 16:35, 12 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Calling this a guideline seems more appropriate to me. --MZMcBride (talk) 22:59, 12 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Since there was no mention of policy vs guideline at the VP, I think we can safely resolve that on this page, and I support it being a guidelinepolicy because it affects policies. We can't have a guideline trumping policies.   — Jeff G. ツ 04:55, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Per Jeff, though our definition of what policies and guidelines are is non existent, contributors are unlikely to believe that guidelines trump policies, yet this principle applies specifically to policies. I suggest we leave this as a small policy, unless we want to start discussing the type of solution that was forced to evolve at en.wp's RFC GNL where a larger policy on policies is amended to refer to a guideline. As it happens, on Commons we don't have anything identical to that master policy, the nearest being buried in the language policy, which itself, I feel, would be hiding this neat policy change away from view. -- (talk) 09:13, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I don't understand "We can't have a guideline trumping policies." The aim of this page is not to trump policy - it's to affect the way that the policy is written. It doesn't try to change Commons:Licensing so that we only accept gender-neutral licenses, it says that the way we write the licensing policy should be gender-neutral. It's a guideline on how to write policies. Thanks. Mike Peel (talk) 10:01, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
This is your understanding, however our policies include no explanation from which this follows. There is no harm in keeping this a policy, and one benefit is that it will be taken as a firm requirement, not just advice. -- (talk) 10:41, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I thought this was a fairly basic-level understanding of how policies and guidelines work in general. The harm is that it's policy creep. E.g., if this is a policy, then why isn't Commons:Assume good faith also a policy? Thanks. Mike Peel (talk) 11:07, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
No, my professional experience is that most people find distinguishing policy, process, strategy, mission, scope, principle, procedure, guidelines, FAQs, terms of use, etc. not something that is obvious or something that can be deduced with any certainty from external general principles. Commons has never suffered from policy creep, that's very much an en.wp idea, and AGF not being policy is a classic misconception in Commons discussions, being a reason that we normally refer to "hostile environment" in our deeper discussions, rather than AGF. If AGF were a policy or directly pointed to by policy, we might start applying it, or a civility policy, more seriously, which would change one of core differences in how our international environment works, and remains a more open environment, compared to single-language projects. Anyway, this is a tangent, and a rather complex one to debundle or wikilawyer just before a holiday weekend. -- (talk) 13:17, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I think this page even can be a subpage or subsection of Commons:Language policy. Jee 13:25, 13 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I did say in my comment at the VP that guideline-status would be more appropriate, and I continue to believe this should be a guideline. For instances, guidelines are more naturally extensible, and its logical to want to extend this in future to cover user interactions - that can only ever be a guideline. Furthermore, as Mike Peel says this advice about "how to write policy" not "substance of policy". For that matter the key objective of changing policies to be gender neutral doesn't need this at all; it could have just been done. Supporting text to demonstrate consensus would only be needed if someone actually objected to that.--Nilfanion (talk) 15:28, 14 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I also think this page should be a guideline. 4nn1l2 (talk) 22:14, 2 May 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Changes made[edit]

For the first few changes, I suggest we log they happened here in case there are things to learn. -- (talk) 13:36, 14 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Clarity in the known-gender case[edit]


"If you want to use Steve McCurry’s picture, please ask his permission first".
  • Fine. Here, the pronoun “his" is being used to refer to a specific photographer who is known to be male.

_I_ think it's clear to me by the language here, "who is known to be male", that the editor who wrote this did some research into the matter beforehand - however, this example might be seen to imply that using pronouns without knowing the person's preference, instead assuming things based on the name, would be a valid thing to do. I'm not sure what the message we want to communicate here is - some suggestions I'd have are: "who is known to be identify using male pronouns", or even just "known to be male". I'd also add that this example leads itself to confusion should the person (Steve, in this case), change gender identity, and thus would require more maintenance potentially. So, perhaps this may be a little less ideal than the "best" above it - again, there's no need to have a gendered pronoun in this case at all. Tduk (talk) 05:05, 16 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I'd agree - switching to a deceased photographer might help, as there's no chance of them changing gender identity. There are also some risks around using an "obviously" male name like Steve: For a start, its only "obviously" male to an English speaker. That might cause users to assume that when a name has an obvious gender in their language or country, that the person is that gender. That might not be true, and it could cause an English speaker might make an incorrect assumption about an Italian person or an Italian speaker to make an incorrect assumption about an American. Think w:Simone (given name) which is male in Italy, and female everywhere else. Finally, if the individual is non-binary, they may still use a typical binary name.
An ideal person might be Ansel Adams, who is deceased and has a less common name. The sentence would need a tweak from "his permission" to "his estate's permission". It should also point out a recast sentence avoiding the pronoun would be better still.--Nilfanion (talk) 10:00, 16 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Good points. Though the gender identity of deceased people occasionally does come into question, especially as the language around gender identity is rapidly evolving. Funcrunch (talk) 17:17, 16 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
All good points. This leads me to think that there isn't really a reason to even have this exception case listed - does it serve any purpose or make anything clearer? Tduk (talk) 17:49, 16 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I think this was added during the voting to make people feel it was okay to have a gender specific pronoun when the subject has a known gender; which of course it is. In practice it looks pretty irrelevant, as I don't think we have a policy or guideline where this will be important, even where case studies are used for illustration. -- (talk) 18:41, 16 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Hmm, what if we changed "known" to "confirmed"? I think that'd be a bit clearer. Tduk (talk) 21:40, 16 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I was the editor who drafted the text. The purpose of the example, as indicated above, is merely to clarify that the use of gender specific pronouns is perfectly acceptable in the right context. While it could be argued that the example is not strictly necessary, it is evidently useful as during the discussion several editors appeared to misunderstand the point. The example deliberately references an internationally-known photographer to make the entirely unsurprising point that it is acceptable (though not of course required) to refer in that context to "his permission". It has nothing to do with making gendered assumptions based on the forename "Steve”, and given the intent of the sentence it hardly seems worth worrying about the fact that we might need to modify it if at sometime in the future the person mentioned changes gender identity.

If the expression "who is known to be male” is considered insufficiently clear, we could change it to "who identifies as male". I would not agree to more radical changes, though, as significant changes would need to go back to a full community discussion and vote. That can hardly be justified given that this policy has only just been formally adopted. MichaelMaggs (talk) 11:01, 19 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I think that the ambiguity of "is known to" is that it's passive - whereas something like "is confirmed to" implies a more active role in determining the gender identity. That's just my feeling on reading it, but others may see it otherwise...? Tduk (talk) 20:36, 20 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I should clarify that, to some degree, this is probably partly a reaction to the number of people you find on Wikipedia who "know" something that isn't necessarily verifiable or true. Tduk (talk) 20:38, 20 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Tduk, do you think that "who identifies as male" would be better in that respect? — Preceding unsigned comment added by MichaelMaggs (talk • contribs) 10:06, 21 April 2017‎ (UTC)Reply[reply]
I would actually be happiest with <translate> "If you want to use Steve McCurry’s picture, please ask for permission first";</translate> there's absolutely no need to even introduce gender into this sort of sentence - or indeed, any sentence. I'd also suggest that this is an unlikely thing to be appearing in any sort of guideline, so the inclusion of the example is at best confusing. Tduk (talk) 03:35, 22 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Sorry, no, that negates the whole point of the example which is to confirm that in such a case use of the word 'his' is fine. Your suggestion would alter the agreed content of the policy. --MichaelMaggs (talk) 07:42, 22 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
No, the examples and original wording of the policy were your personal creation, during the vote process without consultation with anyone else. Specifically, the "his" example was your choice and was not voted on by the community. Insisting that it cannot be removed is misleading and an inappropriate use of the actual proposal and outcome of the community's vote. -- (talk) 08:01, 22 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Alternatively you could thank me for supporting your proposal and drafting the specific policy wording for you. MichaelMaggs (talk) 08:13, 22 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In the light of your other actions, especially choosing to host a libellous allegation on your talk page, that's not going to happen today. Thanks for asking. -- (talk) 08:15, 22 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
MichaelMaggs, could you show where in the "agreed content of the policy" is defined, as you state? The link to the discussion above no longer works. I don't remember seeing anything like this phrase in question there. Tduk (talk) 16:33, 26 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
For the history of the text that developed into this policy (including that sentence from the start), see the timeline here. The corresponding discussion has been archived, and is now here. I'm unsure where you are going with your queries, but if it's your view that the policy is a mistake you should present your case at COM:VP/P, preferably with a specific proposal for the amended policy that you would like to see. Discussions here will not be seen by many editors.
Personally, though, I was pleased that the Commons community handled this effectively and without fuss, in contrast to the English Wikipedia where non-binary editors have been exposed to some quite disgraceful comments. MichaelMaggs (talk) 17:51, 26 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'm not seeing anything indicating that the example sentence, explicitly stating using gender-based pronouns in policy (which is a strange thing to do; when do policies even use names?), is "agreed content". Am I missing something? I participated in the Village Pump discussion and don't recall anything like that at the time, nor do I see it now. I'd prefer the sentence be removed, but at least suggest that the wording be less ambiguous. I'm not sure why there is resistance to this. Tduk (talk) 18:53, 26 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I would appreciate a reply - I didn't think making a minor wording change required a whole new Village Pump discussion, but if it does, I would like to see a pointer to where in the original discussion there was something that led you think the result of it was to include the example in question, so I know how to form my suggestion. Thank you. The simplest change, which I _would_ be happy with, is changing the word "known" to "confirmed". A better change would be also switching it to a female example rather than a male one - this will help fight certain views people have about Wikipedia. The best change, in my opinion, would be to remove this example entirely. Again, if any one of these changes are made, then I'm not likely to follow up any time soon, but if there is a problem then I will look into how best to follow it up. Thanks again. Tduk (talk) 22:32, 3 May 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

English Wikipedia link[edit]

I'd like to suggest in the "useful sources" section:

Tduk (talk) 03:18, 24 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It's already wikilinked in the text. --MichaelMaggs (talk) 07:30, 24 April 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

What is wrong with the singular they?[edit]

I personally fail to see why using the singular they is discouraged, the only reason I can think of why it might confuse non-native English speakers is because the term isn't widely used anymore and the excuse that many native English speakers get irritated by it is like claiming that using “y'all” to address a plurality of people without using the more confusing multiple “you” should also be discouraged because it's associated with a low education in those United States of America. Singular they is probably the shortest and the best solution, plus I don't think that we should make it a guideline to prohibit/discourage people from using the wrong pronouns, if someone were to refer to me as he/she, (s)he, or she (assuming that I'm female) I wouldn't be bothered by it as we're on the internet and the gender of the person making the argument should be irrelevant to the argument in the context of photography. I myself prefer to use the singular they for referring to others and honestly don't know if this policy/guideline should discourage me from using it on Wikimedia Commons or if I could still freely through around the singular they without having to worry about “the word police 👮‍♀️”

This page probably belongs more in the essay space than in “the policy space”, and though I wouldn't want to encourage anyone to start using the wrong gender pronouns assuming one’s gender is a misunderstanding and not an insult so it shouldn't be as actively discouraged as it is here, also if it were in essay-space one could still link 🔗 to it when their gender gets wrongly assumed.

Sent 📩 from my Microsoft Lumia 950 XL with Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile 📱. --Donald Trung (Talk 💬) ("The Chinese Coin Troll" 👿) (Articles 📚) 15:37, 6 December 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

As there were no objections to this I have updated the guidance to not oppose the singular they. There does not appear to have been a consensus against it in the original RfC. GKFXtalk 21:35, 8 April 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]

What are the sanctions?[edit]

Instant banning when this policy is violated or just a warning? Someone Not Awful (talk) 21:46, 9 April 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@Someone Not Awful: I suppose that if someone were to deliberately not use gender-neutral language on official Commons policy, guideline and help pages, they would be reverted and probably warned. Continued or egregious such behavior would probably escalate any sanctions.   — Jeff G. ツ please ping or talk to me 12:52, 10 April 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]

his, her or its[edit]

What’s wrong with this variant? Grammatically, these are only three ways to say third-person singular pronoun. 15:45, 5 July 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]