Google Urges Developers To Use Gender-Neutral Language


By Rob Shimshock

Google has unveiled guidelines telling developers on its open-source platform to use gender-neutral code and avoid terms like “guys” and “mother.”

Ben Wells, a software engineer at Google, posted the guidelines on a developer discussion thread for the company’s open-source Chromium – on which developers can modify Chrome code – earlier in April. The guidelines are based on a document made by Google staff software engineer Rachel Grey. While this original document is only available to Google employees, Wells adapted it and posted it to a public community that caters to Chromium developers.

“After several recent efforts to remove gender-specific code from Chromium, we’d like to keep our code base gender-neutral,” Wells announced on the discussion thread. “Help keep our code base gender free :)”

The gender-neutral guidelines contain sections on the significance of gender-neutral terms, specific suggestions, and tools to help developers find and remove gendered terms.

“Some points in our code, documentation and comments contain needless assumptions about the gender of a future reader, user, etc,” says the document. “Example: “When the user logs into his profile.” (emphasis in original)

The guidelines cite the “Be respectful and constructive” section of Chromium’s Code of Conduct and adds emphasis to the phrases “enjoy our experience,” “discrimination,” and “condescension.”

“Unnecessarily gendered code is discriminatory and condescending,” notes Google. “And reading biased code isn’t enjoyable.”

The document says to avoid gendered pronouns and words like “brother,” “mother,” and “man.”

“[‘He or she,’ ‘his/hers,’ and ‘(s)he’] exclude those who don’t identify with either gender, and implicitly (slightly) favor one gender via listing it first,” explains the document, before suggesting users “[avoid] ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, which has male associations.”

“Usually in comments it implies anthropomorphism of inanimate objects and should be replaced with a more precise technical term. If it does refer to people, consider using ‘everyone,’ ‘folks,’ ‘people,’ ‘peeps,’ ‘y’all,’ etc.”

“These are only suggestions,” the guidelines say at one point. “You make the call.”

The Chromium guidelines assert it’s alright to use gendered language when referring to a specific person, using names like “He” and “Guy” that resemble gendered words, and using “He” as an abbreviation for “helium.”

The guidelines also suggest using the singular pronoun “they,” or changing the hypothetical person to plural people in order to avoid singular gendered pronouns. Users can also reword sentences to exclude pronouns entirely.

“The guidelines are pretty new,” Google spokeswoman Maggie Shiels told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “3 weeks old and generally speaking well received.”

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