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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Editorial Conventions in Health Education Materials What to do about dads and pronouns

She or he read our February newsletter. And unsubscribed.  She or he wrote that the posting and the included excerpt from Beginnings Parents Guide is sexist because the text does not address fathers and it does not use the gender neurtral “he or she” in referring to the baby.
These are two sticky issues for editors  and  reviewers of health education
materials.  Decisions need to be driven by consideration of the intended
readers and ease of reading and comprehension.
At Beginnings Guides and the Center for Health Literacy Promotion we
continuously debate to what degree to include fathers in parent education
and programs that intend to support child development.  My decision as
editor is based on data from home visitation and parent eduction programs that have participated in our research.
We have two databases now, totaling 2675 parent child dyads. The data are reported by the practitioners on the families in their case loads (we have no access to identifying information). In each database, fathers /male caregivers make up less than 1% of the parents. That does not indicate fathers are not active and important in the children’s lives. But the data do show clearly that it is still mothers who are the primary caregivers.  And so Beginnings Guidesare addressed to mothers.
I can understand our unhappy reader’s objection about the excerpt that
refers to the baby using the male pronoun he. If she or he were more
familiar with Beginnings, she or he would see that the convention is to
alternate the use of he and she in logical ‘chunks’ of text.  This avoids
cluttering up the page, slowing reading, and interfering with comprehension by repeating the awkward and unfamiliar he or she or s/he, as I have done here for illustration.  Another way around the pronouns is to use Baby with a capital B as you would use a name.
I’m sad to loose a reader, and I appreciate his or her passion for equality,
and that she or he brought these issues to the forefront for reconsideration. ss
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