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For those of you who don't know Richard Stallman, he's the founder of the Free Software Foundation and the father of the Free Software movement in general.

I read a lot of his writings, as well as watch his videos, I even had the pleasure to attend one of his speeches about a month ago. There's one thing I noticed: whenever he mentions someone else without specifying the gender, he always uses the feminine pronouns.

Explicit examples are not easy to search for, I'm posting them as soon as possible:

I thought of a few possible ways to explain it:

  • it's a contracted version of "he/she" or "s/he" (however he seems to be the only one who uses it)
  • there's some grammar construct I'm not aware of, similar to the feminine third person in Italian (again, I don't know of anybody else using it in English).

Is he just using some polite version?

  • Could you provide some examples of this linguistic habit of his? It may make it a bit easier for others to understand what you are talking about :) – oerkelens Oct 9 '14 at 8:32
  • @oerkelens I'll do my best to post video examples soon. As you can see, some of these are really generic, the beggar clearly, the person in the japanese restaurant, the friend with Netflix, yet he uses the feminine pronouns all the time and I don't understand why. – izabera Oct 9 '14 at 9:46
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    In the beggar-quote, there also is "When a beggar asks me for money, I never give money. But if he refers to food or eating, I offer to give him food instead." He just seems to be doing what, e.g., Microsoft does in their documentation: half the time when they refer to a user, it's a she. It seems to be some gender-equality thing I do not completely feel comfortable with, I'd rather they use "they". But I guess I like their motives so I won't complain too loudly. – oerkelens Oct 9 '14 at 9:52
  • I'm just terrible at finding examples... – izabera Oct 9 '14 at 9:55
  • @snailboat There you go, a much less SEO-friendly version of this question. – izabera Oct 9 '14 at 10:07
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There is a concerted effort underway in the US and possibly elsewhere to eliminate sexism in language. In most books written more than twenty years ago, say, the masculine pronoun will be chosen.

The reader, when he encounters such an image, ......

For a while it was s/he.

Now one often finds she promoted to the place formerly occupied by (sexist) he. A sexist solution to sexism.

  • For writers working in corporate environments there is often a policy in place for how to handle the sexism inherent in English pronouns. Options include the ones you've mentioned, plus alternating 'he' and 'she' in sentences, using the traditional 'he', or using 'they' as a singular pronoun. There is no perfect solution. What Stallman's personal motivation for using 'she' is, I couldn't say. Possibly it is the sexism issue, or maybe he has another reason all his own. – michelle Oct 9 '14 at 14:39
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    I skirt the issue by using the plural. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 9 '14 at 14:51
  • P.S. The year earlier, Stallman had stirred up a tempest with remarks he had made at a conference, remarks about "Emacs virgins". One might understand his frequent use of female pronouns here (albeit usually with female exempla) to be at least partially in response to that notoriety. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 21 '15 at 14:51
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Let's look at your examples:

In every single one of these examples, the pronoun she has specific reference to a female entity. RMS is using she because these people are female. He is not using she as a generic pronoun. You seem to have missed this key fact!

This example is the sole exception. Here, RMS isn't referring to any specific person, but to beggars in general. He alternates between he and she, which is a relatively common practice these days, replacing the old practice of using he all the time―although I personally feel singular they is more natural and less distracting to the reader.

(Singular they is hundreds of years old, but it's become significantly more popular in the last 40 to 50 years as generic he has been deprecated. I'm young enough that they seems like the unmarked choice, although people certainly still use generic he or alternate between he and she today.)

So the premise in your question is false. RMS doesn't specifically use she to refer to random strangers. And there is certainly no "sexist solution" to anything here.

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