Is a reader feminine like the moon or a ship? Here I present a few examples from an academic lecture on how to write a good scientific paper. The audience are aspiring authors of future scientific papers. The lecturer always refers to the author as "he" and to the reader as "she". The lecturer uses this gender differentiation repeatedly and subconsciously. The audience swallows this convention naturally just like pelican swallows fish.

"He positions the reader so she can see it with her own eyes."

"The reader can see it for herself."

"Now, the problem with writing in clichés is that it either forces the reader to shut down her visual brain (...) or if she actually does think through the prose to the underlying image, she will inevitably be upended by the mixed metaphors."

It's obvious that the lecturer does not imply that all authors of scientific papers are men and all readers are women.

I am sure it is not the first time I heard the convention of referring to reader as female. Here is another example:

"Tell your reader just enough to make her care about your main character, then get to the the problem, the quest, the challenge, the danger—whatever it is that drives your story."

Hence my question. Is is a common case that writers refer to their audience reader as female similarly like lots of us do with the moon, or a ship?

  • 2
    Nouns (such as the moon) do not usually have a gender in English. The lecturer is referring to the reader as "she" but I have not watched through to see if he has mentioned a specific reader. If not, he could have said "he" or "she" or "they" but chose to say "she" to refer to an unspecified person. Some decades ago it would always be "he" and when that became unsustainable some people began to say "she" and others began to say "they". It is quite acceptable now to say "they" in the singular to refer to an unspecified person. Nov 1, 2020 at 22:31
  • 1
    So what makes you think "she" is wrong? Nov 1, 2020 at 23:07
  • @WeatherVane why wrong? It is easy to look up that moon is she, sun is he. It is easy to check that in fary-tales a mouse is he. And when you speak about ship it is she. That is why I ask about reader. Nov 1, 2020 at 23:19
  • 1
    The speaker may have chosen to use different genders so they could use pronouns for both without ambiguity, rather than having to repeatedly clarify the antecedent of “he” (or “she”) for both.
    – StephenS
    Nov 2, 2020 at 3:09
  • 1
    No, nouns have no gender in English. Please ask this on a politics or interpersonal site. From here, This sexist practice may be dying out especially among people who actually use ships. I hope so. I heard a few years ago a radio interview with the pilot of a hovercraft. The interviewer persistently referred to the vessel as "she". The pilot just as persistently referred to it as "it". Nov 2, 2020 at 10:01

1 Answer 1



An author, when speaking about their "reader" may choose to use any of "he", "she", "he or she" or (more commonly) "they".

The moon is also not feminine. Although sometimes authors may choose to personify the moon as feminine. This is poetry, not grammar. In European cultures, if the moon is personified, it is personified as a woman.

Nouns in English, even nouns like "girl" or "man" do not have grammatical gender. Nouns like "reader" and "moon" certainly do not have gender.

  • I know that I may choose to personify my ship as he, but most people personify ships as female. I am asking if it is a common convention that people refer to reader as "her". Nov 2, 2020 at 9:16
  • 2
    No, it isn't. On the 'short story' site, the writer has used his a few sentences earlier. He is evidently choosing to vary the gender of the hypothetical reader. Nov 2, 2020 at 13:14
  • @Przemyslaw Remin: Don't assume there's any particular significance to the fact that you've found one context where someone decided to use he for the author and she for the reader. That would almost certainly have been an entirely arbitrary choice, where the primary purpose was simply to "set the stage" so that all future references to the author and reader using pronouns would be unambiguous. Nothing to do with there being any kind of "default gender" for the real-world referents. Nov 2, 2020 at 17:36
  • " if it is a common convention that people refer to reader as "her". " My answer stands unchanged: No. An author may choose to use "he" or "she" or "he or she" or "they". There is no convention to refer to readers as "she"
    – James K
    Nov 2, 2020 at 18:51
  • This answer misses the distinction between he/she used to refer to an inanimate object, and generic he/she as a pronoun referring to a person of unspecified gender. Nov 2, 2020 at 19:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .