REVIEW article

Can gender-fair language reduce gender stereotyping and discrimination.

\r\nSabine Sczesny*

  • Department of Psychology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Gender-fair language (GFL) aims at reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination. Two principle strategies have been employed to make languages gender-fair and to treat women and men symmetrically: neutralization and feminization. Neutralization is achieved, for example, by replacing male-masculine forms ( policeman ) with gender-unmarked forms ( police officer ), whereas feminization relies on the use of feminine forms to make female referents visible (i.e., the applicant… he or she instead of the applicant… he ). By integrating research on (1) language structures, (2) language policies, and (3) individual language behavior, we provide a critical review of how GFL contributes to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. Our review provides a basis for future research and for scientifically based policy-making.

Linguistic gender asymmetries are ubiquitous, as documented in the contributions in Hellinger and Bußmann (2001, 2002, 2003 ), which analyze 30 languages (e.g., Arabic, Chinese, English, Finnish, Hindi, Turkish, Swahili) from various language families. An almost universal and fundamental asymmetry lies in the use of masculine generics. In English, for example, generic he can be used when gender is irrelevant (e.g., the user… he ) and in German, masculine role nouns serve as labels for mixed gender groups (e.g., einige Lehrer , masc.pl ‘several teachers’ for a group of male and female teachers). Thus, masculine forms not only designate men but also mixed-gender groups or referents whose gender is unknown or unspecified (see Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Feminine forms, on the other hand, do not function generically but refer to women only ( Hellinger and Bußmann, 2001 ).

That masculine forms are used to represent all human beings is in accord with the traditional gender hierarchy, which grants men more power and higher social status than women ( Ridgeway and Correll, 2004 ). A large-scale content analysis of 800,000 Reuters news messages (published in English between 1996 and 1997) found that the pronoun he was more frequent than she in the news and also appeared in more positive contexts ( Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2014 ). The interrelation of language and the gender hierarchy has also been documented in a study which analyzed the ratio of male to female pronouns (e.g., he/she , his/hers ) in written texts (full texts of about 1.2 million U.S. books, years 1900–2008; from the Google Books database; Twenge et al., 2012 ). This ratio was found to reflect the status of women in the United States during the 20th century. When women’s status was high (as indicated by educational attainment, labor force participation, etc.), the proportion of female pronouns was higher; when women’s status was low, female pronouns were less frequent.

Gender-fair language (GFL) 1 was introduced as a response to this structural asymmetry and as part of a broader attempt to reduce stereotyping and discrimination in language (see Fairclough, 2003 ; Maass et al., 2013 , for the political correctness debate). GFL aims to abolish asymmetries in referring to and addressing women and men, for example, by replacing masculine forms ( policeman ) with gender-unmarked forms ( police officer ), or by using both masculine and feminine forms (i.e., the applicant… he or she instead of the applicant… he ).

In this paper, we review theoretical and empirical work on the role of GFL in sustaining or reducing gender stereotyping and social discrimination, as a follow-up on a comprehensive research program (the Marie Curie Initial Training Network - Language, Cognition, and Gender, ITN LCG , http://www.itn-lcg.psy.unibe.ch/content/index_eng.html ). In this framework, we survey research on (1) language structures, (2) language policies, and (3) individual language behavior in order to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of GFL and to identify boundary conditions and obstacles for its implementation. Our aim is to critically discuss and integrate research findings to answer the question of whether and under what circumstances GFL contributes to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. Hopefully, this review will provide a useful basis for future research and for scientifically based policy-making.

Language Structures

Although gender asymmetries exist in most, if not all, languages, they may be more or less conspicuous, depending on the structure of the language. Three types of languages can be distinguished: grammatical gender languages, natural gender languages, and genderless languages (see Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Table 1 gives an overview of this typology, describing the main characteristics of the different types with regard to gender and gender asymmetries as well as preferred strategies of linguistic gender-fairness. German, French, and Czech, for example, are grammatical gender languages . In these languages, every noun has a grammatical gender and the gender of personal nouns tends to express the gender of the referent. In natural gender languages (English or Swedish) 2 personal nouns tend to be gender-neutral (e.g., neighbor ) and referential gender is expressed pronominally (e.g., he/she ). In genderless languages such as Finnish or Turkish neither personal nouns nor pronouns signal gender. Here, gender is only expressed through attributes such as ‘male/female [teacher]’ or in lexical gender words such as ‘woman’ or ‘father.’ Consequently, gender and linguistic gender asymmetries are much more visible in grammatical gender languages than in natural gender languages or genderless languages ( Hellinger and Bußmann, 2001 ).

www.frontiersin.org

TABLE 1. Overview of language types regarding expression of gender and gender asymmetries.

The way gender is encoded in a language may be associated with societal gender equality ( Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). This assumption was tested empirically for 111 countries with different language systems, controlling for geographic, religious, political, and developmental differences ( Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012 ). In this research, the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum was used to determine gender equality (GGI; Hausmann et al., 2009 ). Countries with grammatical gender languages were found to reach lower levels of social gender equality than countries with natural gender languages or genderless languages. This suggests that a higher visibility of gender asymmetries is accompanied by societal gender inequalities. A survey on sexist attitudes yielded additional evidence for this relationship ( Wasserman and Weseley, 2009 ): respondents (native speakers of English as well as bilinguals) exhibited more sexist attitudes when the survey was conducted in a grammatical gender language (Spanish or French) than in a natural gender language (English). These findings document that, from the perspective of gender-fairness or gender equality, grammatical gender languages present a particularly complex and difficult case.

Research has consistently revealed that masculine generics evoke a male bias in mental representations and make readers or listeners think more of male than female exemplars of a person category ( Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Effects of linguistic forms on mental representations were measured with the help of various experimental methodologies, for instance, (1) completing sentences with different pronouns and nouns (e.g., he , she , he/she , the lawyer , the client ; Jacobson and Insko, 1985 ), (2) writing stories about fictitious people following an introductory sentence in the masculine or in gender-fair wording ( Heise, 2000 ), (3) naming female or male representatives (e.g., favorite musician) in response to either masculine nouns or combinations of feminine and masculine forms ( Stahlberg et al., 2001 ), (4) estimating the proportion of women and men in certain roles (e.g., participants at a congress of nutritionists versus geophysicists; Braun et al., 1998 ), (5) measuring reading time as an indicator of fit between sentences about social groups denoted by nouns with different grammatical gender and sentences that contained a reference to the social group that qualified the group members as female, male, or neither one ( Irmen and Roßberg, 2004 ), or (6) measuring reaction times when classifying gender-related (e.g., she , he ) or neutral pronouns (e.g., it , me ) as female or male after perceiving gender-related (e.g., mother , father , nurse , doctor ) or gender-neutral primes (e.g., parent , student ; Banaji and Hardin, 1996 ). The masculine bias in language has been observed in English (e.g., Crawford and English, 1984 ; Hamilton, 1988 ; Gastil, 1990 ; Ng, 1990 ), French (e.g., Chatard et al., 2005 ; Gabriel et al., 2008 ), German (e.g., Heise, 2000 ; Stahlberg et al., 2001 ; Braun et al., 2005 ; Irmen, 2007 ), Italian (e.g., Cacciari and Padovani, 2007 ), Polish (e.g., Bojarska, 2011 ), and Spanish ( Carreiras et al., 1996 ). In a study with German and Belgian school children, the grammatical form of job titles was found to influence the children’s perceptions of typically male jobs: when occupations were presented in the masculine (e.g., German Ingenieure , masc.pl ‘engineers’) the mental accessibility of female jobholders was lower than with feminine-masculine word pairs (e.g., Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure , fem.pl and masc.pl ‘[female and male] engineers’; Vervecken et al., 2013 ). In another study, adult speakers as well envisaged more men in an occupation when job advertisements included more masculine than feminine forms ( Gaucher et al., 2011 ). In all, both the range of methods as well as the number of languages for which the male bias of masculine generics has been documented attests to the validity of the finding.

In general, different strategies can be used to make language gender-fair and avoid detrimental effects of masculine generics: neutralization, feminization and a combination of the two. Which strategy is the appropriate one depends on the type of language concerned (grammatical gender language, natural gender language, or genderless language, Bußmann and Hellinger, 2003 ).

In the framework of neutralization gender-marked terms are replaced by gender-indefinite nouns (English policeman by police officer ). In grammatical gender languages, gender-differentiated forms are replaced, for instance, by epicenes (i.e., forms with invariant grammatical gender which refer to female as well as male persons; e.g., German Staatsoberhaupt , neut. ‘head of state’ or Fachkraft , fem. ‘expert’ in German). Neutralization has been recommended especially for natural gender languages (e.g., Hellinger and Bußmann, 2003 ; for English; Norwegian; Danish) and genderless languages (e.g., Engelberg, 2002 , for Finnish), as it is fairly easy to avoid gender markings in these languages. Thus, neither generic he nor the combination he/she , but “singular they is the dominant epicene pronoun in modern written British English. However, despite its use, singular they has never been endorsed by institutions of the English language, such as major dictionaries and style guides (although many style guides now reject generic he… )” ( Paterson, 2014 , p. 2). Recently, a gender-neutral third person pronoun was invented in Swedish: hen. This neologism first appeared in 2012 in a children’s book where it served as an alternative to the gender-marked pronouns ‘she’ (hon) and ‘he’ (han; Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2015 ).

In contrast, feminization is based on the explicit inclusion of women. Thus, masculine generics are replaced by feminine-masculine word pairs (e.g., German Elektrikerinnen und Elektriker ‘[female and male] electricians’; Polish nauczycielki i nauczyciele ‘[female and male] teachers’) or abbreviated forms with slashes (e.g., German Elektriker/in ; Polish nauczyciel/ka ) or brackets (e.g., Elektriker[in] ; nauczyciel[ka] ). Feminization has been recommended for grammatical gender languages such as German, Spanish, Czech, and Italian ( Hellinger and Bußmann, 2003 ; Moser et al., 2011 ), usually in combination with neutralizing in order to avoid overly complex sentence structures.

However, feminization is not always advantageous for women. The Italian feminine suffix - essa , for example, has a slightly derogatory connotation (e.g., Marcato and Thüne, 2002 ). Accordingly, a woman introduced as professoressa ‘female professor’ was perceived as less persuasive than a man or than a woman referred to with the masculine form professore ( Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ). Masculine terms used in reference to a female jobholder were associated with higher status than feminine job titles with - essa ( Merkel et al., 2012 ). Another example is the German (originally French) suffix- euse or - öse. Feminine terms such as Masseuse ‘(female) masseur’ and Frisöse ‘(female) hair dresser’ evoke sexual or frivolous associations, so that the neutral suffix -in is usually preferred, as in Ingenieur-in ‘female engineer,’ or Spediteur-in ‘female forwarding agent.’ Especially in Slavic languages feminine job titles tend to be associated with lesser status, with rural speech, or with the meaning ‘wife of…’ rather than ‘female job holder’ (for Russian: Doleschal and Schmid, 2001 ; for Serbian: Hentschel, 2003 ; for Polish: Koniuszaniec and Blaszkowa, 2003 ). There are also asymmetries in meaning between feminine and masculine forms, as with Polish sekretarka ‘female secretary,’ which designates a personal assistant, whereas the masculine sekretarz refers also to a high governmental function. In Polish, the feminine suffix - ka not only derives feminine occupational terms (such as nauczyciel-ka ‘female teacher’ from masculine nauczyciel ‘teacher’) but also words for inanimate objects such as marynar-ka ‘jacket’ from masculine marynarz ‘sailor.’ Problems of this kind can limit the possibilities of feminization in some languages. Where feminization faces such structural problems, its use is less widespread and may have negative effects (Italian: Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ; Polish: Formanowicz et al., 2013 , 2015 ). But where feminine suffixes are productive feminization can became a linguistic norm and can be evaluated positively (German: Vervecken and Hannover, 2012 ).

The focus of early research on GFL was mostly on the masculine bias associated with masculine generics. But although these findings suggest that linguistic asymmetries may have farther-reaching consequences, this line of research has made no further progress until recently. The latest findings are more comprehensive and indicate how linguistic asymmetries may facilitate (unintended) forms of social discrimination ( Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ; Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). For example, adult women were reluctant to apply to gender-biased job advertisements (e.g., English job titles ending in - man ) and were more interested in the same job when the advertisement had an unbiased form ( Bem and Bem, 1973 ). Also, the likelihood of naming women as possible candidates for the office of chancellor in Germany was found to depend on the grammatical gender of the word ‘chancellor’ in the question ( Stahlberg and Sczesny, 2001 ). When the masculine generic ( Kanzler ) was used, fewer respondents suggested female politicians compared to a combination of masculine and feminine form ( Kanzler oder Kanzlerin ‘[male or female] chancellor’). Moreover, self-evaluation and evaluations by others were found to be influenced by linguistic forms. Thus, girls assumed women to be less successful in typically male occupations when the jobs were described with masculine rather than gender-fair forms, and they were also less interested in these occupations (see also Chatard et al., 2005 ; Vervecken et al., 2013 ). Using feminine-masculine word pairs rather than masculine forms for traditionally male occupations boosted children’s self-efficacy ( Vervecken and Hannover, 2015 ). Furthermore, occupations described in pair forms mitigated the difference between ascribed success to female and male jobholders in gendered occupations ( Vervecken et al., 2015 ). Also, women’s perceptions of belonging were found to mediate the effect that women found jobs advertised in the masculine less appealing ( Gaucher et al., 2011 ). Accordingly, women experienced the use of gender-exclusive language during a mock job interview as ostracism ( Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ). They reported a lower sense of belonging when gender-exclusive language ( he ) was used compared to gender-inclusive ( he or she ) or gender-neutral ( one ) forms. In a study on Austrian German, the wording of job advertisements influenced the evaluation of candidates for leadership positions ( Horvath and Sczesny, 2015 ): men were perceived as fitting a high-status leadership position better than women when a masculine job title was used ( Geschäftsführer , masc. ‘chief executive officer, CEO’). But when the job ad was gender-fair ( Geschäftsführerin/Geschäftsführer , fem./masc. ‘[female/male] CEO’), women and men were judged as equally suited. In the context of a lower-status position (project leader) no differences of this kind occurred.

Language Policies

Many countries have pledged themselves to an equal treatment of women and men (e.g., the member states of the European Union and associated states in the Treaty of Lisbon- European Commission, 2007 ), and the use of GFL is widely recommended ( Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, 1996 , revised in 2009; UNESCO, 1999 ; National Council of Teachers of English, 2002 ; European Commission, 2008 ; American Psychological Association, 2009 ). But the implementation of GFL has reached different stages in different countries and speech communities.

In the 1970s, guidelines for GFL were introduced in particular professional domains across national and linguistic boundaries, for example, by the American Psychological Association (1975) , by the McGraw-Hill Book Company (1974 ; see also Britton and Lumpkin, 1977 ; Sunderland, 2011 ) and the Macmillan Publishing Company (1975) . These guidelines demand that authors of (psychological) articles, books, teaching materials, or fiction treat women and men equally, including the language they use (see also Sadker et al., 1991 ). Publication guidelines of this kind have been effective, because authors need to follow the rules if they want to see their manuscripts published. In texts written by Australian academics ( Pauwels, 2003 ), for example, masculine generic pronouns were infrequent. Similarly, an analysis of American Psychological Association journal articles from the years 1965–2004 revealed a complete absence of generic he from 1985 onward, even if the articles still contained other, more subtle gender biases such as androcentric reporting in tables and graphs ( Hegarty and Buechel, 2006 ).

In 1987 representatives of Canada and the Nordic countries argued for an adoption of GFL by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization . This resulted in the creation of guidelines in UNESCO (1999) . UNESCO’s position in favor of GFL is described in their gender equality guidelines: “This development indicated a growing awareness that language does not merely reflect the way we think: it also shapes our thinking. If words and expressions that imply that women are inferior to men are constantly used, that assumption of inferiority tends to become part of our mindset; hence the need to adjust our language when our ideas evolve” ( UNESCO, 2011 , p. 4). The document not only became the most widely recognized international standard for GFL, it also regulates language use in internal documents and publications of UNESCO. Similar guidelines for publications were issued by the European Commission (2008) , referring to all working languages of the European Union (EU). Yet, the standards promoted by UNESCO and the EU do not regulate language use in the different countries and are not considered mandatory within their member states.

The availability of GFL policies and the extent of their implementation, that is, their dissemination and execution, also vary considerably between countries ( Moser et al., 2011 ). In Italy, for instance, guidelines for GFL were issued in Sabatini (1987) , in the German-speaking area most guidelines appeared in the 1990s (e.g., Hellinger and Bierbach, 1993 ; Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, 1996 ; revised in 2009), and in the Czech Republic guidelines were published only in Valdrová et al. (2010) . In other countries such as Poland there are as yet no official guidelines at all. While in some states GFL policies are mentioned only on the website of a ministry (e.g., Czech Republic; Valdrová et al., 2010 ), use of GFL is mandatory in job ads and public administration in Austria. Since the 1990s the German Duden dictionaries, for example, have included not only the masculine form of personal nouns and job titles but routinely cite the corresponding feminine forms ( Kunkel-Razum, 2004 ). The dictionary lists even feminine forms that are infrequent in texts. An example is the word Päpstin ‘female pope,’ which has been listed in the Grosses Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Large dictionary of the German language) from the year 1999 onward, even though obviously there never was a female pope in the history of the Catholic Church ( Kunkel-Razum, 2004 ). Moreover, the Duden editors decided to include a chapter on the “equal treatment of women and men in language” in the ninth volume of the series Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (Correct and good German). The chapter describes the linguistic potential which the German language offers for speaking or writing in a gender-fair way.

In the German-speaking countries, language policies have become part of the organizational culture of various institutions such as universities and administrations (e.g., Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, 1996 , revised in 2009; Merkel, 2011 ; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, 2011 ; Gendup – Zentrum für Gender Studies und Frauenförderung, 2012 ). Even so, Austria is the only country where the use of GFL in job advertisements is strictly prescribed and companies are fined for failing to address both genders in their job ads ( Bundesministerium für Frauen und Öffentlichen Dienst, 2009 ). This may be the reason why the proportion of job ads worded in GFL differs between Austria and German-speaking Switzerland: only 9% of Austrian job advertisements contain masculine generics, whereas it is 27% in Switzerland ( Hodel et al., 2013 ).

School and education are of particular importance for the implementation of GFL. In most countries there are few official GFL guidelines for authors of educational materials ( Eurydice, 2009 ) and regulations concerning schoolbooks exist only in certain countries (e.g., Germany, Ireland, or Iceland). Similarly, only a few countries require schoolbooks to be officially evaluated or approved. In the UK, for example, educational authorities do not monitor teaching materials and schools choose them autonomously. Today German schoolbooks for mathematics and German mostly use gender-neutral forms, followed by masculine generics and feminine-masculine word pairs, ( Moser and Hannover, 2014 ). The two gender-fair options together (word pairs and neutralizing) outweighed the masculine in the schoolbook sample that was analyzed. Since earlier studies on German schoolbooks (e.g., Lindner and Lukesch, 1994 ; Preinsberger and Weisskircher, 1997 ) reported a predominance of masculine generics, this finding indicates an increase of GFL in schoolbooks. In some of the texts, however, feminine-masculine word pairs were mixed with masculine generics (see also Markom and Weinhäupl, 2007 ). This inconsistency is problematic because in the presence of word pairs masculine forms may be understood as referring to male persons only (e.g., Gabriel et al., 2008 ).

Individual Language Behavior

Apart from language structures and country-specific aspects, there are a number of factors that make individuals use or reject GFL. One major factor is the novelty of gender-fair forms, which conflicts with speakers’ linguistic habits ( Blaubergs, 1980 ). As long as this is the case, people may experience GFL as irritating, and consequentially may refrain from using it. This could explain why negative effects of GFL have been found especially in the initial phases of language reform such as, for instance, in English in the 1990s ( McConnell and Fazio, 1996 ), and in Italian and Polish in the beginning of the 21st century ( Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ; Merkel et al., 2012 ; Formanowicz et al., 2013 ).

Moreover, initiatives for GFL were first instigated by activist movements (e.g., Silveira, 1980 ; Pusch, 1984 ) and for that reason often met with negative reactions ( Blaubergs, 1980 ; Parks and Roberton, 1998 ; Formanowicz et al., 2013 ). It is conceivable that individual reactions toward GFL are not only caused by its novelty, but also depend on attitudes toward gender arrangements ( Jost and Kay, 2005 ; Carney et al., 2008 ), for conservative political attitudes are associated both with lesser openness for novelty ( Carney et al., 2008 ) and with stronger support for traditional gender arrangements ( Jost et al., 2003 , 2008 ; Hoyt, 2012 ). Thus, speakers of Polish with more conservative attitudes devaluated female job applicants referring to themselves with a feminine job title compared to female and male applicants using a masculine job title ( Formanowicz et al., 2013 ).

Another factor for individual speakers’ use of GFL might be speakers’ gender: women could be expected to hold more favorable attitudes toward GFL than men and they might be more inclined to use it in their own speech. However, research findings on this point are mixed. While in some studies men rejected GFL more than women did (e.g., Parks and Roberton, 2004 ; Douglas and Sutton, 2014 ), other studies found no gender difference in attitudes toward GFL (e.g., Sczesny et al., 2015 ). Gender differences were mediated by participants’ attitudes toward women, which were, in turn, driven by more comprehensive ideologies that justified the social gender hierarchy (i.e., gender-specific system justification and social dominance orientation; Douglas and Sutton, 2014 ).

Language use has been viewed as associated with speakers’ sexist attitudes , so much so that the use of sexist language has been regarded as an example of subtle sexism ( Swim et al., 2004 ). Modern sexism, for instance, is a view that denies that women are still discriminated against and disapproves of policies promoting gender equality ( Swim et al., 1995 ). In fact, participants with modern sexist beliefs were found to use more traditional, gender-unfair language ( Swim et al., 2004 ). Correspondingly, speakers with stronger sexist attitudes toward women used gender-fair pronouns less frequently than speakers with less sexist attitudes ( Jacobson and Insko, 1985 ). Speakers with progressive gender role perceptions, on the other hand, exhibited a tendency to avoid sexist language when writing an essay ( McMinn et al., 1991 ).

This raises the question how sexist or non-sexist ideologies translate into actual language behavior. Spontaneous use of GFL was found to be guided by explicit intentions to use GFL as well as more implicit processes involving use of GFL in the past ( Sczesny et al., 2015 ). GFL use was not predicted directly by sexist beliefs but by intentions and habits. In other words, sexist speakers do not avoid GFL just because they are reluctant to change their linguistic habits, they deliberately employ a form of language that treats males as the norm and makes women less visible. Habits guide speakers’ linguistic behavior without their being aware of it ( Sczesny et al., 2015 ), and learning processes play a role for GFL to become a habit. S peakers who grew up with schoolbooks using predominantly masculine generics (e.g., English: Hellinger, 1980 ; Campbell and Schram, 1995 ; Lee and Collins, 2008 ; German: Lindner and Lukesch, 1994 ; Preinsberger and Weisskircher, 1997 ) tend not to question this usage. But once speakers have acquired the habit of using GFL they will rely on this language form. Establishing GFL habits via teaching and practicing current linguistic standards (e.g., Duden; Kunkel-Razum, 2004 ) is a promising approach which should follow the initial phase of GFL implementation and may reduce political controversies. In this sense, a prevalence of GFL in the media could also promote the use of GFL by individual speakers.

So far, few studies have investigated how speakers can be made to use and approve of GFL. After training interventions, speakers of English used slightly more gender-fair pronouns in completing sentences than non-attendants ( McMinn and Foster, 1991 ; McMinn et al., 1991 ; Prentice, 1994 ). Their attitudes, however, did not change ( Prentice, 1994 ). German speakers as well used more GFL after being exposed to arguments for GFL than in a control condition ( Koeser and Sczesny, 2014 ), but this did not affect their attitudes toward GFL. Interestingly, merely reading texts in gender-fair wording can also increase speakers’ own use of GFL: female speakers of German employed more gender-fair forms after reading a gender-fair text than after other texts, but there was no such effect for men ( Koeser et al., 2015 ). Male speakers increased their use of gender-fair forms only when their attention was drawn to GFL forms. These findings indicate that it is more difficult to change attitudes than to promote speakers’ actual use of GFL.

Overcoming Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination with Gender-Fair Language?

Over the past decades, a large body of research—based on various experimental methodologies, from storytelling to measuring reaction times—has confirmed the influence of linguistic forms on the accessibility of mental representations of women and men (see Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Regardless of language structure and of the ease of implementing GFL ( Bußmann and Hellinger, 2003 ), a consistent finding is that speakers do not understand masculine forms as referring to both genders equally but that they interpret them in a male-biased way. This underscores the importance of implementing GFL in everyday language and of using it consistently, so that speakers take up this usage in their own texts and utterances.

How successful have the respective language policies been so far? In natural gender languages , neutralization has been fairly easy to adopt and implement (e.g., English, Danish). But even in these language communities people are guided by their knowledge about typical gender distributions in social roles. Thus, English readers tend to associate different occupations or role nouns with men or women, since gender stereotypes are incorporated in their mental representations ( Oakhill et al., 2005 ); and even though there are fewer gender-marked forms in natural gender languages, masculine generics exist and their use can result in social discrimination ( Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ). In grammatical gender languages , feminization as the main strategy of GFL still poses challenges. This is especially true for some languages, e.g., Italian ( Merkel et al., 2012 ) and Slavic languages ( Koniuszaniec and Blaszkowa, 2003 ), where the creation of feminine forms can be problematic, as outlined above. Refusal of GFL can still be observed ( Formanowicz and Sczesny, 2014 ). Such disadvantages are likely to occur while the change is in progress ( Formanowicz et al., 2015 ).

Moreover, our review suggests that—independent of language structure—GFL is more frequent and more accepted when it is backed by official regulations and when the use of biased language is sanctioned in some way (e.g., in official publications or texts; American Psychological Association, 1975 , 2009 ; Bundesministerium für Frauen und Öffentlichen Dienst, 2009 ; see Hodel et al., 2013 ). The relationship between policy-making and social change is surely bidirectional. On the one hand, gender equality movements and their demands find their way into legislation. On the other hand, official regulations may stipulate social change by facilitating the internalization of new norms and enforcing their execution. Public discussions over policies also enhance public awareness for GFL (see above the singular pronouns they in English and hen in Swedish). The contribution of language reforms to gender equality in a society/speech community can best be assessed with investigations that compare countries sharing the same language (e.g., French in Canada and in France) as well as countries with different languages (e.g., Polish and German, two grammatical languages at different stages of implementing GFL). Although there have been some attempts at this type of research ( Formanowicz et al., 2015 ; Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2015 ) more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of language-related policies and provide an evidence-based rationale for policy-making.

As mentioned above, speakers’ use of GFL results from deliberate processes, involving attitudes and intentions, and habitual processes, involving repetition of past behavior ( Sczesny et al., 2015 ). Both types of processes are relevant for the successful implementation of GFL. Despite the various guidelines and legal regulations for GFL that exist on global and national levels, spontaneous use of GFL by individual speakers still seems to be infrequent. For instance, use of GFL in a gap-filling task was quite low among speakers of German from Germany and Switzerland, although GFL policies are fairly advanced in both countries. Most of the participants used more masculine generics than gender-fair forms. As language use is an action performed in a wide range of circumstances, future research should also assess the contiguity between behavior and context. Speakers may employ GFL when writing official texts, for instance, but not when talking or writing to friends. Moreover, attitudes, norms, and intentions concerning GFL in general seem to be only moderately favorable. Even though positive arguments for GFL can help to promote a change in language behavior ( Koeser and Sczesny, 2014 ), future research should attempt to identify factors that are crucial for a deliberate use of GFL. For instance, it might be worthwhile to determine the content and strength of attitudes in different groups of speakers, namely speakers who use GFL regularly compared to speakers who use GFL only occasionally and others who do not use it at all. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the processes underlying a rejection of GFL, future research could also take a closer look at people’s political attitudes ( Formanowicz et al., 2013 ), their preference for status quo, and their acceptance of traditional gender arrangements ( Jost et al., 2008 ).

In any case, attitudes toward GFL may become more favorable the more frequently and longer GFL has been used (in addition to a mere exposure effect, Zajonc, 1968 , see also the existence bias: people treat the existence of something as evidence of its goodness; Eidelman et al., 2009 ). The role of familiarity for an active use of GFL can best addressed with longitudinal studies. In Sweden, for example, speakers’ attitudes toward the gender-neutral pronoun hen have become more positive over time ( Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2015 ). A meta-analytical approach would constitute another way of capturing the dynamics of GFL implementation, taking into account the time when the studies were conducted but also the availability of policies and the structure of the languages concerned. This approach might help to determine whether a language has left the phase where GFL evokes negative associations as well as the role of other factors (such as language policies).

Interventions aiming to increase the use of GFL could focus on a simple repetition of non-sexist expressions, so that these become established habits ( Koeser et al., 2015 ; Wood and Rünger, 2016 ). This would be a very subtle and implicit way of promoting use of GFL. The development and evaluation of GFL interventions/trainings has not yet been investigated systematically. Future research should take both deliberate and habitual processes of GFL use into consideration, for instance, by analyzing whether children—exposed to and trained in GFL at school (with the help of current schoolbooks)—will later use GFL habitually and consequently hold less gender-stereotypic beliefs.

Finally, there are still obstacles that prevent GFL from becoming a linguistic norm/standard and prevent the change toward an equal treatment of women and men. First, the male bias of linguistic asymmetries in mental representations is backed by a higher prevalence of men in certain social roles (e.g., heroes, politicians), which facilitates their cognitive accessibility ( Stahlberg and Sczesny, 2001 ). Once women and men occupy all social roles to a similar extent (see social role theory, which poses that gender stereotype content results from observing women and men in certain societal roles; Eagly, 1987 ; Bosak et al., 2012 ), this difference in accessibility should decrease and more gender-balanced mental representations should emerge. Ironically, recent research has documented that linguistic asymmetries prevent girls and women from aspiring to male-dominated roles (see Chatard et al., 2005 ; Gaucher et al., 2011 ; Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ; Vervecken et al., 2013 ; Vervecken and Hannover, 2015 ) and thereby perpetuate the higher accessibility of men in these roles.

Second, the use of gender-unfair language, especially of masculine generics, restricts the visibility of women and the cognitive availability of female exemplars ( Stahlberg et al., 2007 ), which may be disadvantageous for women (e.g., in personnel selection; Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ; Horvath and Sczesny, 2015 ). However, increasing the visibility of women with the help of novel feminine forms may also have negative consequences and may therefore be avoided, for instance, in women’s professional self-reference ( Merkel et al., 2012 ; Formanowicz et al., 2013 ). Thus, the avoidance of GFL by women (e.g., avoidance of feminine job titles in grammatical gender languages), in order to protect themselves from ascriptions of incompetence or lower status, also perpetuates the reduction of gender stereotyping and social discrimination.

Third, arguments against GFL have routinely included the presumed difficulty of understanding GFL texts ( Parks and Roberton, 1998 ). Empirical investigations have refuted this argument and have shown that text quality ( Rothmund and Christmann, 2002 ) and cognitive processing were not damaged ( Braun et al., 2007 ). When GFL texts were compared to (generic) masculine texts, there were no differences in readability and esthetic appeal ( Blake and Klimmt, 2010 ). In all, the empirical evidence does not confirm the alleged disadvantage of GFL. Yet, these findings and the scientific evidence for serious disadvantages of masculine generics (see above) have largely been ignored in political controversies and public discussions about GFL. In all, there is a lack of transfer of scientific knowledge which prevents the understanding of linguistic asymmetries as part of a broader gender imbalance and hinders social change. Education and policy-making therefore need to increase the efforts of circulating new scientific insights about GFL to break the vicious circle of ill-informed controversies and discussions about GFL.

At first glance linguistic gender asymmetries seem to affect mostly women. When masculine forms are used it is women who are seen as less prototypical category exemplars, it is women who feel less adequate or are less preferred as job candidates, and it is women who profit from GFL. Therefore, the question arises whether GFL benefits men as well. First, the introduction of GFL might represent a particular challenge for men. In a study by Crawford and English (1984) both male and female participants read a text whose title contained either masculine generics ( Psychologist and his work? ) or GFL ( Psychologist and their work? ) and were to recall the text after 2 days. As the results showed, men’s recall was better in the masculine and women’s recall in the GFL condition. This finding indicates that learning to use GFL involves more than overcoming linguistic novelty. For men, GFL means an unwelcome loss of their privileged position in language. Only in few situations have they something to gain through GFL. If all job advertisements would contain GFL, for instance, men might be more included in traditionally female jobs which used to be referred to in the feminine. Future research should also consider the perspective of men and examine how GFL can turn into a win–win situation for women and men in modern societies.

To conclude, past research has revealed that GFL has the potential to make significant contributions to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. But as the body of existing evidence is based mainly on experimental paradigms with different kinds of measures, future research should take a closer look on people’s actual language use in everyday life (e.g., in conversations, in the classroom, in social media or organizational communication). Moreover, it will be fruitful to further investigate the dynamics of GFL usage and its effects from cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspectives (see above the Marie Curie Initial Training Network - Language, Cognition, and Gender, ITN LCG , which can be regarded as a first step in this direction). Speakers’ willingness to use GFL in everyday life is crucial in order to profit from the impact of GFL on the (linguistic and social) treatment of women and men in society. But a deliberate effort is required before the use of GFL can become habitual. Education and policy-making can facilitate these processes. When employed consistently over a longer period, and especially when supported by well-informed controversies and discussions, GFL will contribute even more to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination and may thus function as another barometer for change (like the decrease in gender-stereotypical social perception of leadership, Schein, 2001 ).

This research was conducted within the Marie Curie Initial Training Network: Language, Cognition, and Gender , ITN LCG, funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n°237907 ( www.itn-lcg.eu ). We thank Friederike Braun for her valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer Simona Mancini and handling Editor Manuel Carreiras declared their shared affiliation, and the handling Editor states that the process nevertheless met the standards of a fair and objective review.

  • ^ In the literature, GFL is also referred to with other terms, e.g., gender-neutral language : Sarrasin et al. (2012) ; gender-inclusive language : Stout and Dasgupta (2011) ; non-sexist language : Douglas and Sutton (2014) .
  • ^ According to McConnell-Ginet (2013) , however, the concept of natural gender language is a myth, and she suggests calling the respective languages “notional” gender languages, since, for example in English, “concepts and ideas about biological sex matter at least as much as sex itself to the choice of English third-person pronouns.” (p. 3).

American Psychological Association (1975). Guidelines for nonsexist use of language. Am. Psychol. 30, 682–684. doi: 10.1037/h0076869

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

American Psychological Association (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: Supplemental Material , 6th Edn. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Google Scholar

Banaji, M. R., and Hardin, C. D. (1996). Automatic stereotyping. Psychol. Sci. 7, 136–141. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00346.x

Bem, S. L., and Bem, D. J. (1973). Does sex-biased job advertising “aid and abet” sex discrimination? J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 3, 6–18. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1973.tb01290.x

Blake, C., and Klimmt, C. (2010). Geschlechtergerechte Formulierungen in Nachrichtentexten [Gender-fair formulations in news texts]. Publizistik 55, 289–304. doi: 10.1007/s11616-010-0093-2

Blaubergs, M. S. (1980). An analysis of classic arguments against changing sexist language. Womens Stud. Int. Q. 3, 135–147. doi: 10.1016/S0148-0685(80)92071-0

Bojarska, K. (2011). Wpływ androcentrycznych i inkluzywnych płciowo konstrukcji językowych na skojarzenia z płcią [The impact of the andocentric and gender-inclusive language constructions on the gendered asssociations]. Stud. Psychol. 49, 53–68. doi: 10.2478/v10167-011-0010-y

Bosak, J., Sczesny, S., and Eagly, A. H. (2012). The impact of social roles on trait judgments – a critical re-examination. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 38, 429–440. doi: 10.1177/0146167211427308

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Braun, F., Gottburgsen, A., Sczesny, S., and Stahlberg, D. (1998). Können Geophysiker Frauen sein? Generische Personenbezeichnungen im Deutschen [Can geophysicists be women? Generic terms for describing persons in German]. Z. Ger. Linguist. 26, 177–195. doi: 10.1515/zfgl.1998.26.3.265

Braun, F., Oelkers, S., Rogalski, K., Bosak, J., and Sczesny, S. (2007). “For reasons of intelligibility.” How masculine generics and alternative forms affect the cognitive processing of a text. Psychol. Rundsch. 58, 183–189. doi: 10.1026/0033-3042.58.3.183

Braun, F., Sczesny, S., and Stahlberg, D. (2005). Cognitive effects of masculine generics in German: an overview of empirical findings. Communications 30, 1–21. doi: 10.1515/comm.2005.30.1.1

Britton, G. E., and Lumpkin, M. C. (1977). For sale: subliminal bias in textbooks. Read. Teach. 31, 40–45.

Bundesministerium für Frauen und Öffentlichen Dienst (2009). Geschlechtergerechte Stellenausschreibungen [Gender-Fair Job Advertisements]. Unabhängiger Bericht der Gleichbehandlungsanwaltschaft iS §3 Abs 5 GBK/GAW-Gesetz, Wien.

Bußmann, H., and Hellinger, M. (2003). “Engendering female visibility in German,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 3, eds M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company), 141–173.

Cacciari, C., and Padovani, R. (2007). Further evidence on gender stereotype priming in language: semantic facilitation and inhibition on Italian role nouns. Appl. Psycholinguist. 28, 277–293. doi: 10.1017/S0142716407070142

Campbell, R., and Schram, P. J. (1995). Feminist research methods. A content analysis of psychology and social science textbooks. Psychol. Women Q. 19, 85–106. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1995.tb00280.x

Carney, D. R., Jost, J. T., Samuel, D., Gosling, S. D., and Potter, J. (2008). The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind. Polit. Psychol. 29, 807–840. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00668.x

Carreiras, M., Garnham, A., Oakhill, J. V., and Cain, K. (1996). The use of stereotypical gender information in constructing a mental model: evidence from English and Spanish. Q. J. Exp. Psychol. A 49, 639–663. doi: 10.1080/027249896392531

Chatard, A., Guimond, S., and Martinot, D. (2005). Impact de la féminisation lexicale des professions sur l’auto-efficacité des élèves: une remise en cause de l’universalisme masculin? Année Psychol. 105, 249–272. doi: 10.3406/psy.2005.29694

Crawford, M., and English, L. (1984). Generic versus specific inclusion of women in language: effects on recall. J. Psycholinguist. Res. 13, 373–381. doi: 10.1007/BF01068152

Doleschal, U., and Schmid, S. (2001). “Doing gender in Russian,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 1, eds M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company), 253–282.

Douglas, K. M., and Sutton, R. M. (2014). “A giant leap for mankind” but what about women? The role of system-justifying ideologies in predicting attitudes toward sexist language. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 33, 667–680. doi: 10.1177/0261927X14538638

Eagly, A. H. (1987). Sex Differences in Social Behavior. A Social-Role Interpretation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Eidelman, S., Crandall, C. S., and Pattershall, J. (2009). The existence bias. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 97, 765–775. doi: 10.1037/a0017058

Engelberg, M. (2002). “The communication of gender in Finnish,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 2, eds M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company), 109–132.

European Commission (2007). Treaty of Lisbon. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/archives/lisbon_treaty/full_text/index_en.htm

European Commission (2008). Gender-Neutral Language in the European Parliament. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/publications/2009/0001/P6_PUB(2009)0001_EN.pdf

Eurydice (2009). Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: Study on the Measures Taken and the Current Situation in Europe. Available at: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/thematic_reports_en.php

Fairclough, N. (2003). Political correctness: the politics of culture and language. Discourse Soc. 14, 17–28. doi: 10.1177/0957926503014001927

Formanowicz, M., Bedynska, S., Cisłak, A., Braun, F., and Sczesny, S. (2013). Side effects of gender-fair language: how feminine job titles influence the evaluation of female applicants. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 43, 62–71. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.1924

Formanowicz, M., and Sczesny, S. (2014). Gender-Fair language and professional self-reference: the case of female psychologists in Polish. J. Mix. Methods Res. 10, 64–81. doi: 10.1177/1558689814550877

Formanowicz, M. M., Cisłak, A., Horvath, L. K., and Sczesny, S. (2015). Capturing socially motivated linguistic change: how the use of gender-fair language affects support for social initiatives in Austria and Poland. Front. Psychol. 6:1617. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01617

Gabriel, U., Gygax, P., Sarrasin, O., Garnham, A., and Oakhill, J. (2008). Au-pairs are rarely male: role names’ gender stereotype information across three languages. Behav. Res. Methods 40, 206–212. doi: 10.3758/BRM.40.1.206

Gastil, J. (1990). Generic pronouns and sexist language: the oxymoronic character of masculine generics. Sex Roles 23, 629–643. doi: 10.1007/BF0028925

Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., and Kay, A. C. (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisement exists and sustains gender inequality. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 101, 109–128. doi: 10.1037/a0022530

Gendup – Zentrum für Gender Studies und Frauenförderung (2012). Leitfaden für einen gerechten Sprachgebrauch [Guideline for Gender-Fair Language]. Available at: http://www.uni-salzburg.at/fileadmin/oracle_file_imports/2103374.PDF

Gustafsson Sendén, M., Bäck, E. A., and Lindqvist, A. (2015). Introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in a natural gender language: the influence of time on attitudes and behavior. Front. Psychol. 6:893. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00893

Gustafsson Sendén, M., Lindholm, T., and Sikström, S. (2014). Biases in news media as reflected by personal pronouns in evaluative contexts. Soc. Psychol. 45, 103–111. doi: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000165

Hamilton, M. C. (1988). Using masculine generics: does generic he increase male bias in the user’s imagery? Sex Roles 19, 785–799. doi: 10.1007/bf00288993

Hausmann, R., Tyson, L. D., and Zahidi, S. (2009). The Global Gender Gap Report 2009. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

Hegarty, P., and Buechel, C. (2006). Androcentric reporting of gender differences in APA journals: 1965-2004. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 10, 377–389. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.377

Heise, E. (2000). Sind Frauen mitgemeint? Eine empirische Untersuchung zum Verständnis des generischen Maskulinums und seiner Alternativen [Are women included? An empirical investigation of interpretations of masculine generics and their alternatives]. Sprache Kogn. 19, 3–13. doi: 10.1024//0253-4533.19.12.3

CrossRef Full Text

Hellinger, M. (1980). For men must work and women must weep: sexism in English language textbooks used in German schools. Womens Stud. Int. Q. 3, 267–275. doi: 10.1016/S0148-0685(80)92323-4

Hellinger, M., and Bierbach, C. (1993). Eine Sprache für beide Geschlechter. Richtlinien für einen nicht-sexistischen Sprachgebrauch. [A Language for Both Genders. Guidelines for a Non-Sexist Language Use]. Available at: http://www.unesco.de/fileadmin/medien/Dokumente/Bibliothek/eine_sprache.pdf

Hellinger, M., and Bußmann, H. (2001, 2002, 2003). Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 1, 2, 3. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Hentschel, E. (2003). “Serbian: the expression of gender in Serbian,” in Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 3, eds M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company), 287–309.

Hodel, L., Formanowicz, M., Sczesny, S., Valdrova, J., and von Stockhausen, L. (2013). “Gender fair language use in online job Avertisements,” in Proceedings of the 16th Conference of European Association of Work & Organisational Psychology (EAWOP) , Münster.

Horvath, L. K., and Sczesny, S. (2015). Reducing women’s lack of fit with leadership? Effects of the wording of job advertisements. Eur. J. Work Organ. Psychol. doi: 10.1080/1359432X.2015.1067611

Hoyt, C. L. (2012). Gender bias in employment contexts: a closer examination of the role incongruity principle. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 48, 86–96. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.08.004

Irmen, L. (2007). What’s in a (role) name? Formal and conceptual aspects of comprehending personal nouns. J. Psycholinguist. Res. 36, 431–456. doi: 10.1007/s10936-007-9053-z

Irmen, L., and Roßberg, N. (2004). Gender markedness of language. The impact of grammatical and nonlinguistic information on the mental representation of person information. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 23, 272–307. doi: 10.1177/0261927X04266810

Jacobson, M. B., and Insko, W. R. Jr. (1985). Use of non-sexist pronouns as a function of one’s feminist orientation. Sex Roles 13, 1–7. doi: 10.1007/BF00287456

Jost, J. T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., and Sulloway, F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychol. Bull. 129, 339–375. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.33

Jost, J. T., and Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 88, 498–509. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.3.498

Jost, J. T., Nosek, B. A., and Gosling, S. D. (2008). Ideology: its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 3, 126–136. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00070.x

Koeser, S., Kuhn, E. A., and Sczesny, S. (2015). Just reading? How gender-fair language triggers readers‘ use of gender-fair forms. Advance online publication. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 34, 343–357. doi: 10.1177/0261927X14561119

Koeser, S., and Sczesny, S. (2014). Promoting gender-fair language: the impact of arguments on language use, attitudes, and cognitions. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 33, 548–560. doi: 10.1177/0261927X14541280

Koniuszaniec, G., and Blaszkowa, H. (2003). “Language and gender in Polish,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 3, eds M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company), 259–285.

Kunkel-Razum, K. (2004). “Die Frauen und der Duden – der Duden und die Frauen [The women and the Duden – the Duden and the women],” in Adam, Eva und Die Sprache, Beiträge zur Geschlechterforschung [Adam, Eve and the Language] , ed. K. M. Eichhoff-Cyrus (Mannheim: Dudenverlag), 308–315.

Lee, J. F. K., and Collins, P. (2008). Gender voices in Hong Kong English textbooks – some past and current practices. Sex Roles 59, 127–137. doi: 10.1007/s11199-008-9414-6

Lindner, V., and Lukesch, H. (1994). Geschlechtsrollenstereotype im Deutschen Schulbuch. [Gender Stereotypes in German Schoolbooks]. Regensburg: S. Roderer Verlag.

Maass, A., Suitner, C., and Merkel, E. (2013). “Does political correctness make (social) sense?,” in Social Cognition and Communication , eds J. P. Forgas, O. Vincze, and J. Laszlo (New York, NY: Psychology Press), 331–346.

PubMed Abstract | Google Scholar

Macmillan Publishing Company (1975). Guidelines for Creating Positive Sexual and Racial Images in Educational Materials. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Marcato, G., and Thüne, E. M. (2002). “Gender and female visibility in Italian,” in Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 2, eds M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company), 187–217.

Markom, C., and Weinhäupl, H. (2007). Die Anderen im Schulbuch. Rassismen, Exotismen, Sexismen und Antisemitismus in österreichischen Schulbüchern. [The Others in Schoolbooks. Racism, Exocitism, Sexism, and Anti-Semitism in Austrian Schoolbooks]. Wien: Braumüller.

McConnell, A. R., and Fazio, R. H. (1996). Women as men and people: effects of gender-marked language. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 22, 1004–1013. doi: 10.1177/01461672962210003

McConnell-Ginet, S. (2013). “Gender and its relation to sex: the myth of ‘natural’ gender,” in The Expression of Gender , ed. G. G. Corbett (Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton), 3–38.

McGraw-Hill Book Company (1974). Guidelines for Equal Treatment of the Sexes. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

McMinn, M. R., and Foster, J. D. (1991). A computer program to teach nonsexist language. Teach. Psychol. 18, 115–117. doi: 10.1207/s15328023top1802_16

McMinn, M. R., Troyer, P. K., Hannum, L. E., and Foster, J. D. (1991). Teaching nonsexist language to college students. J. Exp. Educ. 59, 153–161. doi: 10.1080/00220973.1991.10806558

Merkel, E. (2011). Geschlechtergerechte Sprache in den universitären Gleichstellungskonzepten: Eine vergleichende Analyse [Gender-Fair Language in University Concepts of Gender-Equality: A Comparative Analysis]. Essen: Netzwerk Frauen– und Geschlechterforschung NRW.

Merkel, E., Maass, A., and Frommelt, L. (2012). Shielding women against status loss. The masculine form and its alternatives in the Italian language. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 31, 311–320. doi: 10.1177/0261927X12446599

Moser, F., and Hannover, B. (2014). How gender fair are German schoolbooks in the twenty-first century? An analysis of language and illustrations in schoolbooks for mathematics and German. Eur. J. Psychol. Educ. 29, 387–407. doi: 10.1007/s10212-013-0204-3

Moser, F., Sato, S., Chiarini, T., Dmitrov-Devold, K., and Kuhn, E. (2011). Comparative Analysis of Existing Guidelines for Gender-Fair Language within the ITN LCG Network (Work Package B ITN LCG). Available at: http://www.unifr.ch/psycho/itn-lcg/assets/files/ITN_publications/guidelines_final_may2011.pdf

Mucchi-Faina, A. (2005). Visible or influential? Language reforms and gender (in)equality. Soc. Sci. Inform. 44, 189–215. doi: 10.1177/0539018405050466

National Council of Teachers of English (2002). Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language. Available at: www.ncte.org/positions/statements/genderfairuseoflang

Ng, S. H. (1990). Androcentric coding of man and his in memory by language users. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 26, 455–464. doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(90)90069-x

Oakhill, J., Garnham, A., and Reynolds, D. (2005). Immediate activation of stereotypical gender information. Mem. Cognit. 33, 972–983. doi: 10.3758/bf03193206

Parks, J. B., and Roberton, M. A. (1998). Contemporary arguments against nonsexist language: Blaubergs (1980) revisited. Sex Roles 39, 445–461. doi: 10.1023/A:1018827227128

Parks, J. B., and Roberton, M. A. (2004). Attitudes toward women mediate the gender effect on attitudes toward sexist language. Psychol. Women Q. 28, 233–239. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00140.x

Paterson, L. L. (2014). British Pronoun Use, Prescription, and Processing: Linguistic and Social Influences Affecting ‘They’ and ‘He’. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pauwels, A. (2003). “Linguistic sexism and feminist linguistic activism,” in The Handbook of Language and Gender , eds M. Meyerhoff and J. Holmes (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing), 550–570.

Preinsberger, A., and Weisskircher, E. (1997). “Mathematikschulbücher – eine aktuelle Untersuchung [Mathematics books – a recent examination],” in Schule Weiblich – Schule Männlich. Zum Geschlechterverhältnis im Bildungswesen [Female School – Male School. On Gender Relations in the Educational System] , eds L. Lassnigg and A. Paseka (Innsbruck: Studien Verlag), 132–143.

Prentice, D. A. (1994). Do language reforms change our way of thinking? J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 13, 3–19. doi: 10.1177/0261927X94131001

Prewitt-Freilino, J. L., Caswell, T. A., and Laakso, E. K. (2012). The gendering of language: a comparison of gender equality in countries with gendered, natural gender, and genderless languages. Sex Roles 66, 268–281. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5

Pusch, L. F. (1984). Das Deutsche als Männersprache. Aufsätze und Glossen zur Feministischen Linguistik [German as a Male language]. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Ridgeway, C. L., and Correll, S. J. (2004). Unpacking the gender system: a theoretical perspective on gender beliefs and social relations. Gend. Soc. 18, 510–531. doi: 10.1177/0891243204265269

Rothmund, J., and Christmann, U. (2002). Auf der Suche nach einem geschlechtergerechten Sprachgebrauch. Führt die Ersetzung des generischen Maskulinums zu einer Beeinträchtigung von Textqualitäten? [In search of gender-fair language. Does replacement of masculine generics impair text quality?]. Muttersprache 112, 115–135.

Sabatini, A. (1987). Il Sessismo Nella Lingua Italiana, Commissione Nazionale per la Realizzazione Della Parità tra Uomo e Donna, Roma. Available at: http://www.funzionepubblica.gov.it/media/962032/il%20sessismo%20nella%20lingua%20italiana.pdf

Sadker, M., Sadker, D., and Klein, S. (1991). The issue of gender in elementary and secondary eduation. Rev. Res. Educ. 17, 269–334. doi: 10.2307/1167334

Sarrasin, O., Gabriel, U., and Gygax, P. (2012). Sexism and attitudes toward gender-neutral language. The case of English, French, and German. Swiss J. Psychol. 71, 113–124. doi: 10.1024/1421-0185/a000078

Schein, V. E. (2001). A global look at psychological barriers to women’s progress in management. J. Soc. Issues 57, 675–688. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00235

Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei (1996). Geschlechtergerechte Sprache. Leitfaden zum Geschlechtergerechten Formulieren im Deutschen. [Gender-Fair Language. Guideline for Gender-Fair Formulation in German]. Available at: http://www.bk.admin.ch/dokumentation/sprachen/04915/05313/index.html (revised in 2009).

Sczesny, S., Moser, F., and Wood, W. (2015). Beyond sexist beliefs: how do people decide to use gender-inclusive language? Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 41, 943–954. doi: 10.1177/0146167215585727

Silveira, J. (1980). Generic masculine words and thinking. Womens Stud. Int. Q. 3, 165–178. doi: 10.1016/s0148-0685(80)92113-2

Stahlberg, D., Braun, F., Irmen, L., and Sczesny, S. (2007). “Representation of the sexes in language,” in Social Communication. A Volume in the Series Frontiers of Social Psychology , ed. K. Fiedler (New York, NY: Psychology Press), 163–187.

Stahlberg, D., and Sczesny, S. (2001). Effekte des generischen Maskulinums und alternativer Sprachformen auf den gedanklichen Einbezug von Frauen [The impact of masculine generics on the cognitive inclusion of women]. Psychol. Rundsch. 52, 131–140. doi: 10.1026//0033-3042.52.3.131

Stahlberg, D., Sczesny, S., and Braun, F. (2001). Name your favorite musician: effects of masculine generics and of their alternatives in German. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 20, 464–469. doi: 10.1177/0261927x01020004004

Stout, J. G., and Dasgupta, N. (2011). When he doesn’t mean you: gender-exclusive language as ostracism. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 3, 757–769. doi: 10.1177/0146167211406434

Sunderland, J. (2011). Language, Gender and Children’s Fiction. London: Continuum.

Swim, J. K., Aikin, K. J., Hall, W. S., and Hunter, B. A. (1995). Sexism and racism: old-fashioned and modern prejudices. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 68, 199–214. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.68.2.199

Swim, J. K., Mallet, R., and Stangor, C. (2004). Understanding subtle sexism: detection and use of sexist language. Sex Roles 51, 117–128. doi: 10.1023/B:SERS.0000037757.731.06

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (2011). Die Zwölf Sprachregeln [Twelve Language Rules]. Available at: http://www.equal.ethz.ch/rules

Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., and Gentile, B. (2012). Male and female pronoun use in US books reflects women’s status, 1900–2008. Sex Roles 67, 488–493. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0194-7

UNESCO (1999). Guidelines for Gender-Neutral Language. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001149/114950mo.pdf

UNESCO (2011). Priority Gender Equality Guidelines. Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/BSP/GENDER/GE%20Guidelines%20December%202_FINAL.pdf

Valdrová, J., Knotková-Capková, B., and Pacliková, P. (2010). Kultura Genderove Vyvazeneho Vyjadrovani. Available at: http://data.idnes.cz/soubory/studium/A100125_BAR_GENDER_PRIRUCKA.PDF

Vervecken, D., Gygax, P. M., Gabriel, U., Guillod, M., and Hannover, B. (2015). Warm-hearted businessmen, competitive housewives? Effects of gender-fair language on adolescents’ perceptions of occupations. Front. Psychol. 6:1437. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01437

Vervecken, D., and Hannover, B. (2012). Ambassadors of gender equality? How use of pair forms versus masculines as generics impacts perception of the speaker. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 42, 754–762. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.1893

Vervecken, D., and Hannover, B. (2015). Yes I can! Effects of gender fair job descriptions on children’s perceptions of job status, job difficulty, and vocational self-efficacy. Soc. Psychol. 46, 76–92. doi: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000229

Vervecken, D., Hannover, B., and Wolter, I. (2013). Changing (s)expectations: how gender-fair job descriptions impact children’s perceptions and interest regarding traditionally male occupations. J. Vocat. Behav. 82, 208–220. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2013.01.008

Wasserman, B. D., and Weseley, A. J. (2009). Qué? Quoi? Do languages with grammatical gender promote sexist attitudes? Sex Roles 61, 634–643. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9696-3

Wood, W., and Rünger, D. (2016). Psychology of habit. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 67, 11.1–11.26. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033417

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 9, 1–27. doi: 10.1037/h0025848

Keywords : gender stereotypes, gender-fair language, social discrimination, gender equality, social change

Citation: Sczesny S, Formanowicz M and Moser F (2016) Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination? Front. Psychol. 7:25. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025

Received: 31 May 2015; Accepted: 07 January 2016; Published: 02 February 2016.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2016 Sczesny, Formanowicz and Moser. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Sabine Sczesny, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Gender-Inclusive Language

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you make decisions about using gendered language in your writing.

What is gendered language, and why should you be aware of it?

You have probably encountered documents that use masculine nouns and pronouns to refer to subject(s) whose gender is unclear or variable, or to groups that contain people who are not actually men. For example, the U.S. Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” Generations of Americans have been taught that in this context, the word “men” should be read as including both men and women. Other common instances of gendered language include words that assume connections between jobs or roles and gender (like “policeman”) and language conventions that differ depending on the gender of the person being discussed (like using titles that indicate a person’s marital status).

English has changed since the Declaration of Independence was written. Most readers no longer understand the word “man” to be synonymous with “person,” so clear communication requires writers to be more precise. And using gender-neutral language has become standard practice in both journalistic and academic writing, as you’ll see if you consult the style manuals for different academic disciplines (APA, MLA, and Chicago, for example).

Tackling gendered references in your writing can be challenging, especially since there isn’t (and may never be) a universally agreed upon set of concrete guidelines on which to base your decisions. But there are a number of different strategies you can “mix and match” as necessary.

Gendered nouns

“Man” and words ending in “-man” are the most commonly used gendered nouns in English. These words are easy to spot and replace with more neutral language, even in contexts where many readers strongly expect the gendered noun. For example, Star Trek writers developing material for contemporary viewers were able to create a more inclusive version of the famous phrase “where no man has gone before” while still preserving its pleasing rhythm: Star Trek explorers now venture “where no one has gone before.”

Here’s a list of gendered nouns and some alternatives listed below. Check a thesaurus for alternatives to gendered nouns not included in this list.

Sometimes writers modify nouns that refer to jobs or positions to indicate the sex of the person holding that position. This happens most often when the sex of the person goes against conventional expectations. For example, some people may assume, perhaps unconsciously, that doctors are men and that nurses are women. Sentences like “The female doctor walked into the room” or “The male nurse walked into the room” reinforce such assumptions. Unless the sex of the subject is important to the meaning of the sentence, it should be omitted. (Here’s an example where the health care professional’s sex might be relevant: “Some women feel more comfortable seeing female gynecologists.”)

Titles and names

Another example of gendered language is the way the titles “Mr.,” “Miss,” and “Mrs.” are used. “Mr.” can refer to any man, regardless of whether he is single or married, but “Miss” and “Mrs.” define women by whether they are married, which until quite recently meant defining them by their relationships with men. A simple alternative when addressing or referring to a woman is “Ms.” (which doesn’t indicate marital status).

Another note about titles: some college students are in the habit of addressing most women older than them, particularly teachers, as “Mrs.,” regardless of whether the woman in question is married. It’s worth knowing that many female faculty and staff (including married women) prefer to be addressed as “Ms.” or, if the term applies, “Professor” or “Dr.” It should also be noted that “Mx.” is the generally acknowledged gender-neutral honorific if “Professor” or “Dr.” does not apply.

Writers sometimes refer to women using only their first names in contexts where they would typically refer to men by their full names, last names, or titles. But using only a person’s first name is more informal and can suggest a lack of respect. For example, in academic writing, we don’t refer to William Shakespeare as “William” or “Will”; we call him “Shakespeare” or “William Shakespeare.” So we should refer to Jane Austen as “Austen” or “Jane Austen,” not just “Jane.”

Similarly, in situations where you would refer to a man by his full title, you should do the same for a woman. For example, if you wouldn’t speak of American President Reagan “Ronald” or “Ronnie,” avoid referring to British Prime Minister Thatcher as “Margaret” or “Maggie.”

A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun. The English language provides pronoun options for references to masculine nouns (for example, “he” can substitute for “Juan”), feminine nouns (“she” can replace “Keisha”), and neutral/non-human nouns (“it” can stand in for “a tree”). But English offers no widely-accepted pronoun choice for gender-neutral, third-person singular nouns that refer to people (“the writer,” “a student,” or “someone”). As we discussed at the beginning of this handout, the practice of using masculine pronouns (“he,” “his,” “him”) as the “default” is outdated and will confuse or offend many readers.

So what can you do when you’re faced with one of those gender-neutral or gender-ambiguous language situations? You have a couple of options.

1. Try making the nouns and pronouns plural

If it works for your particular sentence, using plural forms is often an excellent option. Here’s an example of a sentence that can easily be rephrased:

A student who loses too much sleep may have trouble focusing during [his/her] exams.

If we make “student” plural and adjust the rest of the sentence accordingly, there’s no need for gendered language (and no confusion or loss of meaning):

Students who lose too much sleep may have trouble focusing during their exams.

2. Use “they” as a singular pronoun

Most of the time, the word “they” refers to a plural antecedent. For example,

Because experienced hikers know that weather conditions can change rapidly, they often dress in layers.

But using “they” with a singular antecedent is not a new phenomenon, and while it’s less common in formal writing, it has become quite common in speech. In a conversation, many people would not even notice how “they” is being used here:

Look for the rental car company’s representative at the airport exit; they will be holding a sign with your name on it.

Some people are strongly opposed to the use of “they” with singular antecedents and are likely to react badly to writing that uses this approach. Others argue that “they” should be adopted as English’s standard third-person, gender-neutral pronoun in all writing and speaking contexts. “They” is the most respectful way to be mindful of those of all genders.

What if you’re not sure of someone’s gender?

You may sometimes find yourself needing to refer to a person whose gender you’re uncertain of. Perhaps you are writing a paper about the creator of an ancient text or piece of art whose identity (and therefore gender) is unknown–for example, we are not certain who wrote the 6th-century epic poem “Beowulf.” Perhaps you’re participating in an online discussion forum where the participants are known only by usernames like “PurpleOctopus25” or “I Love Big Yellow Fish.” You could be writing about someone you don’t personally know whose name is not clearly associated with a particular gender—someone named Sam Smith might be Samuel, Samantha, Samson, or something else—or the person’s name might be in a language you’re unfamiliar with (for example, if English is the only language you speak and read, you might have difficulty guessing the gender associated with a Chinese name). Or maybe you’re discussing a person whose name or pronouns have changed or whose gender identity is fluid. Perhaps your subject does not fit neatly into the categories of “man” and “woman” or rejects those categories entirely.

In these situations, in addition to using “they,” you could also try:

  • Refer to the person using a descriptive word or phrase: the writer of Beowulf is frequently referred to as “The Beowulf poet” or (in contexts where “Beowulf” is the only poem being discussed) “the poet.”
  • If the person is known to you only by a username, repeat the username or follow the standard practices of the forum–PurpleOctopus25 might become Purple or P.O. in subsequent references. (Advice columnists often use a similar strategy; if “I Love Big Yellow Fish” wrote to ask for advice, the columnist’s response might begin with “Dear Fish Lover.”)
  • If the person’s name is known, keep using the name rather than substituting a pronoun. Rephrase as necessary to reduce the number of times you must repeat it: “Blogger Sam Smith’s cats have apparently destroyed Smith’s furniture, stolen Smith’s sandwiches, and terrorized Smith, Smith’s dogs, and Smith’s housemate” could become “Blogger Sam Smith’s cats have apparently destroyed couches, stolen sandwiches, and terrorized their human and canine housemates.”
  • Do a little research: if you are writing about a public figure of any kind, chances are that others have also written about that person; you may be able to follow their lead. If you see multiple practices, imitate the ones that seem most respectful.

If you’re writing about someone you are in contact with, you can ask how that person would like to be referred to.

What about the content of the paper?

Much discussion about gendered language focuses on choosing the right words, but the kinds of information writers include or omit can also convey values and assumptions about gender. For example, think about the ways Barack and Michelle Obama have been presented in the media. Have you seen many discussions of Barack’s weight, hairstyle, and clothing? Many readers and viewers have pointed out that the appearance of female public figures (not just politicians, but actors, writers, activists, athletes, etc.) is discussed more often, more critically, and in far more detail than the appearance of men in similar roles. This pattern suggests that women’s appearance matters more than men’s does and is interesting and worthy of attention, regardless of the context.

Similarly, have you ever noticed patterns in the way that men’s and women’s relationships with their families are discussed (in person, online, or elsewhere)? When someone describes what a male parent does for his children as “babysitting” or discusses family leave policies without mentioning how they apply to men, you may wonder whether the speaker or writer is assuming that men are not interested in caring for their children.

These kinds of values and assumptions about gender can weaken arguments. In many of your college writing assignments, you’ll be asked to analyze something (an issue, text, event, etc.) and make an evidence-based argument about it. Your readers will critique your arguments in part by assessing the values and assumptions your claims rely on. They may look for evidence of bias, overgeneralization, incomplete knowledge, and so forth. Critically examining the role that gender has played in your decisions about the content of your paper can help you make stronger, more effective arguments that will be persuasive to a wide variety of readers, no matter what your topic is or what position you take.

Checklist for gender-related revisions

As you review your writing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you used “man” or “men” or words containing them to refer to people who may not be men?
  • Have you used “he,” “him,” “his,” or “himself” to refer to people who may not be men?
  • If you have mentioned someone’s sex or gender, was it necessary to do so?
  • Do you use any occupational (or other) stereotypes?
  • Do you provide the same kinds of information and descriptions when writing about people of different genders?

Perhaps the best test for gender-inclusive language is to imagine a diverse group of people reading your paper. Would each reader feel respected?  Envisioning your audience is a critical skill in every writing context, and revising with a focus on gendered language is a perfect opportunity to practice.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

American Psychological Association. 2010. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association . 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

University of Chicago Press. 2017. The Chicago Manual of Style , 17th ed. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Make a Gift

What Is Gender-Inclusive Language And Why Does It Matter?

  • Gender & Sexuality

Connect with the author

Profile picture for user mallinson.christine

By Christine Mallinson and J. Inscoe, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Is it sexist to say you guys? Why do we have three terms of address for women—Miss, Ms., and Mrs.—and only Mr. for men? And what should you do when someone changes their pronouns? 

Language isn’t just talk. The ways people use language can reveal and enforce harmful stereotypes. Language can also be used to challenge prevailing norms and conventions. By using genderinclusive language, we not only signal that we value equity—we can also help speak it into being, advancing social progress for people of all genders.

Why should we pursue gender-inclusive language?

Language is always changing and will continue to change, sometimes ahead of societal beliefs and behaviors and sometimes lagging behind. While simply changing our language does not guarantee societal change, linguistic efforts have raised awareness of gendered linguistic bias in ways that have had direct social impact.

Efforts to make the English language more gender-equitable have had a long history in the U.S. Important advances were made from the 1960s to the 1980s, when feminist activists used language strategically to highlight women’s concerns on a national level. For instance, in the 1970s, activists pushed the term domestic violence into the public lexicon, helping portray it as a widespread social problem. Civil rights and feminist activists also made deliberate efforts to introduce Ms. as a term of address that designates gender, but not marital status—just like Mr. The term Mx. (pronounced “mix”), a term of address for transgender or non-gender-binary individuals, was also coined in the 1970s. Today, the term Ms. is widely used in the U.S. In the United Kingdom, Mx. is also an option on many government forms, drivers’ licenses, bank paperwork, and so on.

Early activist efforts also tackled pronouns, especially the use of so-called ‘generic’ pronouns, and the gender-skewed perceptions they cause. For instance, when job ads are described in masculine language (as in, “The job applicant should submit his resume to…”), men feel especially encouraged to apply—and women tend to refrain. Biased language, which can surface as microaggressions, also correlates with diminished workplace satisfaction and can affect physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral health.

Nowadays, the use of singular they—as in, “If a student misses class, they must make up their work”— is on the rise as a gender-neutral preferred pronoun. Although originally decried by 18th-century British grammarians, who argued that masculine forms are more “comprehensive,” the usage is increasingly acceptable in formal English, and widely used in informal English worldwide. Singular they is also an important gender-inclusive pronoun for those who identify as transgender, gender-fluid, or non-binary. As a result, in 2015, members of the American Dialect Society voted the singular they Word of the Year.

What does gender-inclusive language look like?

People are capable and powerful linguistic agents. Even small shifts in how we use language can advance social change—or signal change that may be on its way. A good example is you guys, a widespread term that many people claim is gender-neutral. Increasingly, however, English users are recognizing the term’s masculine bent, opting instead for non-gendered words such as you all, y’all, or folks. 

It can be hard to change one’s linguistic habits, especially those developed over a lifetime. But it is possible. Research finds that people who use gender-inclusive language tend to do so because they are not only aware of gender-based linguistic inequalities, but also actively seek linguistic change. Here are some suggestions for implementing gender-inclusive language, whether in workplaces or schools, via policies or regulations, or simply as part of everyday interactions:

Pay attention to names and naming conventions . Ask for a person’s preferred name and pronouns, instead of assuming. When referring to women, use Ms. unless otherwise specified. When referring to someone’s spouse or child, ask “Is their last name the same as yours or different?” Accept that preferred names, pronouns, and titles may change over time.

Avoid using asymmetrical language . If referring to men as men, also refer to women as women, not as girls, ladies, or females. If referring to men by titles (such as Dr. or Mr.), do the same for women (especially in meetings, during speaker panels, at conferences, etc.). Consider gender neutral titles, such as M., or job-specific titles such as Prof. or Chair. 

Make sure that official forms and surveys offer options . Allow individuals to designate their own gender, or if it is necessary to provide options, include they as an alternative to the traditional male/female binary. Understand that previous official documentation may not reflect an individual’s preferred name, pronouns, or titles. Consider asking individuals to designate their spouse or partner rather than husband or wife or to identify the parent or guardian rather than the mother or father. 

Create a gender-inclusive culture . Ensure that official records, directories, databases, forms, etc. reflect preferred names and pronouns. Encourage individuals to share their preferred name and pronouns, and make the effort to consistently use them. When mistakes happen, acknowledge them, reflect on them, and implement strategies for change. Create a style guide or gender-neutral language policy. Hold trainings to establish a comprehensively inclusive climate. 

Promote an active, critical organization space . Listen to colleagues, staff, students, and employees when they report experiencing hostile environments or interactions. Avoid considering diversity work as being finished, closed, or good enough. Establish a standing committee to review and incorporate scholarly research and activism, gather feedback, and assess state and federal policies regarding discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation in the workplace or elsewhere.

This brief was composed with J. Inscoe. Read more in Christine Mallinson, “Language and Its Everyday Revolutionary Potential: Feminist Linguistic Activism in the United States,” The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Women’s Social Movement Activism (2017): 419–439.

Related Content

Academia.edu no longer supports Internet Explorer.

To browse Academia.edu and the wider internet faster and more securely, please take a few seconds to  upgrade your browser .

Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link.

  • We're Hiring!
  • Help Center

paper cover thumbnail

Promoting Gender-Fair Language: The Impact of Arguments on Language Use, Attitudes, and Cognitions

Profile image of Sabine Sczesny

2014, Journal of Language and Social Psychology

Related Papers

Journal of Language and Social Psychology

Sabine Sczesny

gender fair language essay

Marie Gustafsson Sendén

The gender-neutral third-person pronoun singular hen was recently introduced in Swedish as a complement to she (hon) and he (han). The initiative to add hen initially received strong criticism. In the present study, we analyzed 208 arguments from 168 participants with critical attitudes toward hen. We used Blaubergs’ (1980) and Parks and Roberton’s (1998) taxonomies of critical arguments against past gender-fair language reforms in English in the 1970s and 1990s as a basis for coding the arguments. A majority of arguments (80.7%) could be coded into existing categories, indicating that criticisms of gender-fair language initiatives are similar across different times and cultural contexts. Two categories of arguments did not fit existing categories (19.3%): gender-neutral pronouns are distracting in communication and gender information is important in communication. Furthermore, we established four overarching dimensions that capture assumptions and beliefs underlying gender-fair lan...

Swiss Journal of Psychology

Pascal Gygax

Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics

Peter Crosthwaite

This study identifies and compares the gender-preferential language features present in the argumentative writing of L1 Indonesian and Indonesian L2 English learners. The data is comprised of 80 English argumentative essays sampled from the International Corpus Network of Asian Learners of English (ICNALE, Ishikawa, 2011) and a comparative corpus of 80 L1 Indonesian argumentative essays collected online from Indonesian university students, both equally divided by gender. Comparison of the data was performed through quantitative analysis of three supposed 'male-preferential' features and seventeen 'female-preferential' features between the male-and female-produced corpora in L1 and L2 writing. This study investigated (1) the extent of variation in the use of 'gendered language features' between male and female-produced L1 and L2 texts; (2) whether the use of male/female 'gendered-language features' across male/female produced L1/L2 texts match their suggested gender preference, and (3) to what extent L1's preference for 'gender language features' affects male and female learners' use of such language in L2. The results suggest the majority of supposed gender-preferential features were not significantly different across male/female produced texts, indicating that argumentative essays may be gender-neutral to a certain extent. This study also revealed that L1 preference of gendered language forms does not determine their preferences in the L2. In conclusion, male and female students adopt similar linguistic features to express their arguments. We may claim that gender language forms are not fixed and absolute in academic discourse because instructive texts tend to have a set model to fulfil the pedagogical criteria.

Psychology of Women Quarterly

Janet Parks , Mary Ann Roberton

Donald L Rubin

Rikker Dockum

RELATED TOPICS

  •   We're Hiring!
  •   Help Center
  • Find new research papers in:
  • Health Sciences
  • Earth Sciences
  • Cognitive Science
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Academia ©2024

Select your language

Logging out of EU Login will log you out of any other services that use your EU Login account. Use the CORDIS log out button to remain logged in on other services.

  • Thematic Packs
  • Projects & Results
  • Videos & Podcasts
  • My subscriptions
  • My saved searches

European Commission logo print header

Language, Cognition, and Gender

Article Category

Article available in the following languages:

Encouraging gender-fair language

How does language shape the cognitive representations of women and men? An EU-funded study has investigated the roles that language and culture play in gender inequality.

gender fair language essay

An important issue in Europe is the reduction of gender inequality, yet on a large scale this has not been fully addressed. The project ITN-LCG (Language, cognition, and gender) therefore used an interdisciplinary approach and brought together 10 research training providers and 12 associated partners from public and private sectors. Objectives were interrelated and included measuring the extent to which linguistic aspects conjure gender-related representations and to what degree gender fairness in language relates to higher levels of socioeconomic gender equality. The study also aimed to examine the impact of language on gender stereotyping and to develop and evaluate guidelines and training tools for gender-fair communication. Researchers employed advanced techniques such as eye tracking electrophysiological measurement and neuroimaging. Investigations involved both cross-linguistic differences and looking at grammatical and lexical features of a particular language. The studies show that gender information is extracted from linguistic input in a highly automatized way and that the social category of gender is deeply implemented in language processing. Data collection has resulted in updated norms on the gender perception of role nouns. A tool for online surveys was designed that can assist cross-language and cross-cultural comparisons. The relation between language use, language policies and socioeconomic factors was studied by collecting and assessing guidelines for gender-fair language in different countries and languages and by analyzing their impact on language use, such as in job advertisements. Gender-fair language was proven to be important and make a significant contribution to overcoming gender inequality, e.g. in workplaces. Additionally, brain activity reflects the different status and power conveyed by a gender-unfair or gender-neutral language. This suggests that gender stereotypes are part of the knowledge that the brain automatically triggers. The team evaluated guidelines, strategies and training programmes for gender-fair language and communication. They examined the role of individual language competence in gender fair language use, how effective guidelines are in increasing people's awareness of gender stereotypes and in reducing the use of gender-unfair language. Furthermore, experiments were conducted on how to make people feel positive about gender-fair language and increase their use of it as a result. Insights gathered help us to understand basic cognitive processes that relate language and gender equality, they are useful for developing strategies for gender-fair language use and online and onsite training to avoid gender stereotypes. This will be useful for policymakers as well as academia.

Gender-fair language, cognitive representations, gender equality, gender stereotyping

Discover other articles in the same domain of application

5 February 2024

28 May 2021

23 April 2021

Share this page

Last update: 27 January 2016

Permalink: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/174994-encouraging-genderfair-language

European Union, 2024

Your data extraction is available

Your data extraction with Task ID TASK_ID_PLACEHOLDER is available for download.

Your booklet is ready

Your booklet is ready.

Your booklet {{ title }} generated on {{ timestamp }} is available for download.

The file will remain available for {{ hours }} hours, or until you close your browser.

The generation of your booklet {{ title }} has failed

Encyclopedia

  • Scholarly Community Encyclopedia
  • Log in/Sign up

gender fair language essay

Video Upload Options

  • MDPI and ACS Style
  • Chicago Style

Gender fair language (GFL) is language used with the intention of reducing gender bias in one's mental representation, or mental understanding of an idea. Gender fair language includes gender-neutral (English singular they) and gender-inclusive language (English he or she). Feminization strategies of gender fair language use gender-inclusive language. Neutralization strategies of gender fair language use gender-neutral language. Some languages however are genderless rendering such strategies superfluous. Gender fair language focuses on grammatical gender, where gender is marked grammatically in the language. Gender fair language does not interact with gender noun classes, in which some languages categorize nouns. Gender fair language concerns grammatical gender marking on nouns that reference humans, where the gender marking is in accordance with the gender of the human. Gender marking occurs the most in gendered languages, like German, Spanish, and French, where all nouns are grammatically gendered. In these languages, gender fair language generally applies to nouns, pronouns, role nouns (e.g. German der Lehrer "teacher; m."), and possessive pronouns. Grammatical gender is also marked to a lesser extent in natural gender languages, like English and Swedish, in which animate referents are grammatically gendered according to their intrinsic gender. In these languages, gender fair language generally applies only to pronouns and possessive pronouns. Every language has its own method for grammatical gender marking, and thus gender fair language applies differently to each language to match its need.

1. Motivation

gender fair language essay

One's perceptual and cognitive experience of gender is tuned by the language of use. People are more aware and attentive to gender when using a language where gender is marked and less aware and attentive to gender when using a language where gender is not marked. [ 1 ] Gender bias inside language affects and interferes with gender bias outside of language. Countries where gendered languages are used have on average less gender equality whereas countries where natural gender languages are spoken have on average higher gender equality. [ 2 ] These and other reports made clear the need for reducing gender bias in language in order to reduce gender inequality. [ 3 ]

2. Feminization Forms

Feminization forms of gender fair language include both the male and female form via the gender binary system.

2.1. Pair Forms

Pair forms combine the male and female forms with a conjunction such as "and" or "or". Pair forms are available in all languages that mark gender on nouns. Pair forms are used with pronouns and possessive pronouns in natural gender languages, such as English he or she and his or her, and additionally in role and group nouns as in German Lehrer und Lehrerinnen "teachers; m. and teachers; f." and Vegetarier und Vegetarierinnen "vegetarians; m. and vegetarians; f."

*French possessive pronouns take the gender of the possessed object.

**Some gendered role nouns persist in English (e.g. Waiter and waitress , actor and actress ), but these forms are a minority of role nouns. Most role nouns in English have no grammatical gender marking (e.g. doctor , accountant , hairdresser ).

gender fair language essay

2.2. Split Forms

Split forms are feminization forms that combine the male and female forms into one unit. [ 4 ] Some examples include: German Vegetarier/innen and French Végétarien/ne.

3. Neutralization Forms

Neutralization forms of gender fair language substitute a gender neutral form in place of a gendered form.

3.1. Generic Male

A generic male form ( see Androcentrism for more ) uses a grammatically male form to refer to someone or multiple people without intent to specify gender. Languages from various language families almost universally use the male form as the generic instead of the female form. [ 3 ] Some frequent examples in English appear in generalized sayings such as man and himself in Every man to himself . Generic male forms are also used for mixed-gender groups in gendered languages (e.g. French ils "they; pl.m." to refer to a group of men and women vs elles "they; f." to refer to a group of only women). However, these forms can also appear in reference to an individual when gender is not known or not relevant such as he in the conversation:

Person 1: "I was at the store yesterday and the person at the register said the funniest thing to me." Person 2: "Oh yeah? What did he say?"

Generic male forms can thus reference a male individual or a generic individual without intended gendering. Conversely, female forms only reference female individuals. [ 3 ] This causes male forms to be more dominant in speech and female forms to be more marked, i.e. hold more salient information. [ 4 ] Once having to choose whether the referent is male or female, linking the generic male form to a female referent over a male referent requires more input information to be sure of correct overt gendering. This leads to asymmetry of the generic male form to be male-biased. [ 4 ] Male-biased interpretation of the generic male form is seen even though the forms are intended to be gender unmarked. [ 5 ] [ 6 ] This is true even when being reminded of the generic use of the male form. [ 7 ]

In natural gender languages like English, the male-bias of referents only affects pronouns as those are the only forms that require grammatical gender marking. Role nouns (e.g. server , hairdresser , and banker ) do not have a gender bias from grammatical information, but rather a gender bias due to stereotyping of which gender is assumed to hold that profession. [ 7 ]

3.2. Existing Neutral Forms

Some referents already exist as gender neutral options in some languages. The availability of existing gender neutral forms in place of normally gendered referents depends on the language.

English singular they

English they is normally grammatically marked as plural but can also be used in the singular. Singular they has a history of use when the gender of a referent is unknown.

gender fair language essay

3.3. Novel Neutral Forms

Recently, some instances of new gender neutral pronouns, such as English ze and Swedish hen , were created. [ 8 ]

4. Suggestions for Use

Studies evidence that feminization strategies are helpful for increasing the mental representation of the unexpected gender and therefore help mitigate gender stereotypes. [ 4 ] In this way, feminization forms showed strengthened female associations compared to masculine forms only (GM). [ 4 ] However, feminization forms are awkward in spoken and informal language. Also, feminization forms inherently rely on a gender binary system. As neutralization strategies do not reference gender, they are suggested for any context that does not rely on gender information in order to minimize the role of gender in mental representations. [ 4 ] Specifically, neutralization strategies for natural gender language and a combination of neutralization and feminization strategies for gendered languages is called for. [ 3 ]

Generic male neutralization forms have been criticized since the 1970s as having persisting male bias. [ 3 ] [ 9 ] However, one specific form, the Dutch masculine possessive pronoun zijn, shows results of no gender bias. [ 9 ]

Novel neutral forms show results of no gender bias [ 8 ] and linguists have suggested adopting a gender-neutral pronoun over generic he or double-forms (feminization strategy) since the 80s. [ 10 ]

  • Chen, Jenn-Yeu; Su, Jui-Ju (2010-12-01). "Differential Sensitivity to the Gender of a Person by English and Chinese Speakers". Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 40 (3): 195–203. doi:10.1007/s10936-010-9164-9. ISSN 0090-6905. PMID 21120608.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs10936-010-9164-9
  • Prewitt-Freilino, Jennifer L.; Caswell, T. Andrew; Laakso, Emmi K. (2012). "The Gendering of Language: A Comparison of Gender Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender, and Genderless Languages". Sex Roles 66 (3–4): 268–281. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5. ISSN 0360-0025.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs11199-011-0083-5
  • Sczesny, Sabine; Formanowicz, Magda; Moser, Franziska (2016-02-02). "Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination?". Frontiers in Psychology 7:25: 25. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025. ISSN 1664-1078. PMID 26869947.  http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=4735429
  • Gabriel, Ute; Gygax, Pascal M.; Kuhn, Elisabeth A. (2018-07-19). "Neutralising linguistic sexism: Promising but cumbersome?". Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 21 (5): 844–858. doi:10.1177/1368430218771742. ISSN 1368-4302.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1177%2F1368430218771742
  • MILLER, MEGAN M.; JAMES, LORI E. (2009). "Is the generic pronoun he still comprehended as excluding women?". The American Journal of Psychology 122 (4): 483–496. ISSN 0002-9556.  http://www.worldcat.org/issn/0002-9556
  • Gabriel, Ute; Behne, Dawn M.; Gygax, Pascal M. (2017-05-17). "Speech vs. reading comprehension: an explorative study of gender representations in Norwegian". Journal of Cognitive Psychology 29 (7): 795–808. doi:10.1080/20445911.2017.1326923. ISSN 2044-5911.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1080%2F20445911.2017.1326923
  • GABRIEL, UTE; GYGAX, PASCAL (October 2008). "Can societal language amendments change gender representation? The case of Norway". Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 49 (5): 451–457. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2008.00650.x. ISSN 0036-5564.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1467-9450.2008.00650.x
  • Lindqvist, Anna; Renström, Emma Aurora; Gustafsson Sendén, Marie (2018-10-16). "Reducing a Male Bias in Language? Establishing the Efficiency of Three Different Gender-Fair Language Strategies". Sex Roles 81 (1–2): 109–117. doi:10.1007/s11199-018-0974-9. ISSN 0360-0025.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs11199-018-0974-9
  • Redl, Theresa; Eerland, Anita; Sanders, Ted J. M. (2018-10-18). "The processing of the Dutch masculine generic zijn 'his' across stereotype contexts: An eye-tracking study". PLOS ONE 13 (10): e0205903. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0205903. ISSN 1932-6203. PMID 30335820. Bibcode: 2018PLoSO..1305903R.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0205903
  • Gustafsson Sendén, Marie; Bäck, Emma A.; Lindqvist, Anna (2015-07-01). "Introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in a natural gender language: the influence of time on attitudes and behavior". Frontiers in Psychology 6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00893. ISSN 1664-1078. PMID 26191016.  https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyg.2015.00893

encyclopedia

  • Terms and Conditions
  • Privacy Policy
  • Advisory Board

gender fair language essay

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings
  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • Front Psychol

Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination?

Gender-fair language (GFL) aims at reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination. Two principle strategies have been employed to make languages gender-fair and to treat women and men symmetrically: neutralization and feminization. Neutralization is achieved, for example, by replacing male-masculine forms ( policeman ) with gender-unmarked forms ( police officer ), whereas feminization relies on the use of feminine forms to make female referents visible (i.e., the applicant… he or she instead of the applicant… he ). By integrating research on (1) language structures, (2) language policies, and (3) individual language behavior, we provide a critical review of how GFL contributes to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. Our review provides a basis for future research and for scientifically based policy-making.

Linguistic gender asymmetries are ubiquitous, as documented in the contributions in Hellinger and Bußmann (2001 2002, 2003 ), which analyze 30 languages (e.g., Arabic, Chinese, English, Finnish, Hindi, Turkish, Swahili) from various language families. An almost universal and fundamental asymmetry lies in the use of masculine generics . In English, for example, generic he can be used when gender is irrelevant (e.g., the user… he ) and in German, masculine role nouns serve as labels for mixed gender groups (e.g., einige Lehrer , masc.pl ‘several teachers’ for a group of male and female teachers). Thus, masculine forms not only designate men but also mixed-gender groups or referents whose gender is unknown or unspecified (see Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Feminine forms, on the other hand, do not function generically but refer to women only ( Hellinger and Bußmann, 2001 ).

That masculine forms are used to represent all human beings is in accord with the traditional gender hierarchy, which grants men more power and higher social status than women ( Ridgeway and Correll, 2004 ). A large-scale content analysis of 800,000 Reuters news messages (published in English between 1996 and 1997) found that the pronoun he was more frequent than she in the news and also appeared in more positive contexts ( Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2014 ). The interrelation of language and the gender hierarchy has also been documented in a study which analyzed the ratio of male to female pronouns (e.g., he/she , his/hers ) in written texts (full texts of about 1.2 million U.S. books, years 1900–2008; from the Google Books database; Twenge et al., 2012 ). This ratio was found to reflect the status of women in the United States during the 20th century. When women’s status was high (as indicated by educational attainment, labor force participation, etc.), the proportion of female pronouns was higher; when women’s status was low, female pronouns were less frequent.

Gender-fair language (GFL) 1 was introduced as a response to this structural asymmetry and as part of a broader attempt to reduce stereotyping and discrimination in language (see Fairclough, 2003 ; Maass et al., 2013 , for the political correctness debate). GFL aims to abolish asymmetries in referring to and addressing women and men, for example, by replacing masculine forms ( policeman ) with gender-unmarked forms ( police officer ), or by using both masculine and feminine forms (i.e., the applicant… he or she instead of the applicant… he ).

In this paper, we review theoretical and empirical work on the role of GFL in sustaining or reducing gender stereotyping and social discrimination, as a follow-up on a comprehensive research program (the Marie Curie Initial Training Network - Language, Cognition, and Gender, ITN LCG , http://www.itn-lcg.psy.unibe.ch/content/index_eng.html ). In this framework, we survey research on (1) language structures, (2) language policies, and (3) individual language behavior in order to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of GFL and to identify boundary conditions and obstacles for its implementation. Our aim is to critically discuss and integrate research findings to answer the question of whether and under what circumstances GFL contributes to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. Hopefully, this review will provide a useful basis for future research and for scientifically based policy-making.

Language Structures

Although gender asymmetries exist in most, if not all, languages, they may be more or less conspicuous, depending on the structure of the language. Three types of languages can be distinguished: grammatical gender languages, natural gender languages, and genderless languages (see Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Table ​ Table1 1 gives an overview of this typology, describing the main characteristics of the different types with regard to gender and gender asymmetries as well as preferred strategies of linguistic gender-fairness. German, French, and Czech, for example, are grammatical gender languages . In these languages, every noun has a grammatical gender and the gender of personal nouns tends to express the gender of the referent. In natural gender languages (English or Swedish) 2 personal nouns tend to be gender-neutral (e.g., neighbor ) and referential gender is expressed pronominally (e.g., he/she ). In genderless languages such as Finnish or Turkish neither personal nouns nor pronouns signal gender. Here, gender is only expressed through attributes such as ‘male/female [teacher]’ or in lexical gender words such as ‘woman’ or ‘father.’ Consequently, gender and linguistic gender asymmetries are much more visible in grammatical gender languages than in natural gender languages or genderless languages ( Hellinger and Bußmann, 2001 ).

Overview of language types regarding expression of gender and gender asymmetries.

The way gender is encoded in a language may be associated with societal gender equality ( Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). This assumption was tested empirically for 111 countries with different language systems, controlling for geographic, religious, political, and developmental differences ( Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012 ). In this research, the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum was used to determine gender equality (GGI; Hausmann et al., 2009 ). Countries with grammatical gender languages were found to reach lower levels of social gender equality than countries with natural gender languages or genderless languages. This suggests that a higher visibility of gender asymmetries is accompanied by societal gender inequalities. A survey on sexist attitudes yielded additional evidence for this relationship ( Wasserman and Weseley, 2009 ): respondents (native speakers of English as well as bilinguals) exhibited more sexist attitudes when the survey was conducted in a grammatical gender language (Spanish or French) than in a natural gender language (English). These findings document that, from the perspective of gender-fairness or gender equality, grammatical gender languages present a particularly complex and difficult case.

Research has consistently revealed that masculine generics evoke a male bias in mental representations and make readers or listeners think more of male than female exemplars of a person category ( Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Effects of linguistic forms on mental representations were measured with the help of various experimental methodologies, for instance, (1) completing sentences with different pronouns and nouns (e.g., he , she , he/she , the lawyer , the client ; Jacobson and Insko, 1985 ), (2) writing stories about fictitious people following an introductory sentence in the masculine or in gender-fair wording ( Heise, 2000 ), (3) naming female or male representatives (e.g., favorite musician) in response to either masculine nouns or combinations of feminine and masculine forms ( Stahlberg et al., 2001 ), (4) estimating the proportion of women and men in certain roles (e.g., participants at a congress of nutritionists versus geophysicists; Braun et al., 1998 ), (5) measuring reading time as an indicator of fit between sentences about social groups denoted by nouns with different grammatical gender and sentences that contained a reference to the social group that qualified the group members as female, male, or neither one ( Irmen and Roßberg, 2004 ), or (6) measuring reaction times when classifying gender-related (e.g., she , he ) or neutral pronouns (e.g., it , me ) as female or male after perceiving gender-related (e.g., mother , father , nurse , doctor ) or gender-neutral primes (e.g., parent , student ; Banaji and Hardin, 1996 ). The masculine bias in language has been observed in English (e.g., Crawford and English, 1984 ; Hamilton, 1988 ; Gastil, 1990 ; Ng, 1990 ), French (e.g., Chatard et al., 2005 ; Gabriel et al., 2008 ), German (e.g., Heise, 2000 ; Stahlberg et al., 2001 ; Braun et al., 2005 ; Irmen, 2007 ), Italian (e.g., Cacciari and Padovani, 2007 ), Polish (e.g., Bojarska, 2011 ), and Spanish ( Carreiras et al., 1996 ). In a study with German and Belgian school children, the grammatical form of job titles was found to influence the children’s perceptions of typically male jobs: when occupations were presented in the masculine (e.g., German Ingenieure , masc.pl ‘engineers’) the mental accessibility of female jobholders was lower than with feminine-masculine word pairs (e.g., Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure , fem.pl and masc.pl ‘[female and male] engineers’; Vervecken et al., 2013 ). In another study, adult speakers as well envisaged more men in an occupation when job advertisements included more masculine than feminine forms ( Gaucher et al., 2011 ). In all, both the range of methods as well as the number of languages for which the male bias of masculine generics has been documented attests to the validity of the finding.

In general, different strategies can be used to make language gender-fair and avoid detrimental effects of masculine generics: neutralization, feminization and a combination of the two. Which strategy is the appropriate one depends on the type of language concerned (grammatical gender language, natural gender language, or genderless language, Bußmann and Hellinger, 2003 ).

In the framework of neutralization gender-marked terms are replaced by gender-indefinite nouns (English policeman by police officer ). In grammatical gender languages, gender-differentiated forms are replaced, for instance, by epicenes (i.e., forms with invariant grammatical gender which refer to female as well as male persons; e.g., German Staatsoberhaupt , neut. ‘head of state’ or Fachkraft , fem. ‘expert’ in German). Neutralization has been recommended especially for natural gender languages (e.g., Hellinger and Bußmann, 2003 ; for English; Norwegian; Danish) and genderless languages (e.g., Engelberg, 2002 , for Finnish), as it is fairly easy to avoid gender markings in these languages. Thus, neither generic he nor the combination he/she , but “singular they is the dominant epicene pronoun in modern written British English. However, despite its use, singular they has never been endorsed by institutions of the English language, such as major dictionaries and style guides (although many style guides now reject generic he… )” ( Paterson, 2014 , p. 2). Recently, a gender-neutral third person pronoun was invented in Swedish: hen. This neologism first appeared in 2012 in a children’s book where it served as an alternative to the gender-marked pronouns ‘she’ (hon) and ‘he’ (han; Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2015 ).

In contrast, feminization is based on the explicit inclusion of women. Thus, masculine generics are replaced by feminine-masculine word pairs (e.g., German Elektrikerinnen und Elektriker ‘[female and male] electricians’; Polish nauczycielki i nauczyciele ‘[female and male] teachers’) or abbreviated forms with slashes (e.g., German Elektriker/in ; Polish nauczyciel/ka ) or brackets (e.g., Elektriker[in] ; nauczyciel[ka] ). Feminization has been recommended for grammatical gender languages such as German, Spanish, Czech, and Italian ( Hellinger and Bußmann, 2003 ; Moser et al., 2011 ), usually in combination with neutralizing in order to avoid overly complex sentence structures.

However, feminization is not always advantageous for women. The Italian feminine suffix - essa , for example, has a slightly derogatory connotation (e.g., Marcato and Thüne, 2002 ). Accordingly, a woman introduced as professoressa ‘female professor’ was perceived as less persuasive than a man or than a woman referred to with the masculine form professore ( Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ). Masculine terms used in reference to a female jobholder were associated with higher status than feminine job titles with - essa ( Merkel et al., 2012 ). Another example is the German (originally French) suffix- euse or - öse. Feminine terms such as Masseuse ‘(female) masseur’ and Frisöse ‘(female) hair dresser’ evoke sexual or frivolous associations, so that the neutral suffix -in is usually preferred, as in Ingenieur-in ‘female engineer,’ or Spediteur-in ‘female forwarding agent.’ Especially in Slavic languages feminine job titles tend to be associated with lesser status, with rural speech, or with the meaning ‘wife of…’ rather than ‘female job holder’ (for Russian: Doleschal and Schmid, 2001 ; for Serbian: Hentschel, 2003 ; for Polish: Koniuszaniec and Blaszkowa, 2003 ). There are also asymmetries in meaning between feminine and masculine forms, as with Polish sekretarka ‘female secretary,’ which designates a personal assistant, whereas the masculine sekretarz refers also to a high governmental function. In Polish, the feminine suffix - ka not only derives feminine occupational terms (such as nauczyciel-ka ‘female teacher’ from masculine nauczyciel ‘teacher’) but also words for inanimate objects such as marynar-ka ‘jacket’ from masculine marynarz ‘sailor.’ Problems of this kind can limit the possibilities of feminization in some languages. Where feminization faces such structural problems, its use is less widespread and may have negative effects (Italian: Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ; Polish: Formanowicz et al., 2013 , 2015 ). But where feminine suffixes are productive feminization can became a linguistic norm and can be evaluated positively (German: Vervecken and Hannover, 2012 ).

The focus of early research on GFL was mostly on the masculine bias associated with masculine generics. But although these findings suggest that linguistic asymmetries may have farther-reaching consequences, this line of research has made no further progress until recently. The latest findings are more comprehensive and indicate how linguistic asymmetries may facilitate (unintended) forms of social discrimination ( Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ; Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). For example, adult women were reluctant to apply to gender-biased job advertisements (e.g., English job titles ending in - man ) and were more interested in the same job when the advertisement had an unbiased form ( Bem and Bem, 1973 ). Also, the likelihood of naming women as possible candidates for the office of chancellor in Germany was found to depend on the grammatical gender of the word ‘chancellor’ in the question ( Stahlberg and Sczesny, 2001 ). When the masculine generic ( Kanzler ) was used, fewer respondents suggested female politicians compared to a combination of masculine and feminine form ( Kanzler oder Kanzlerin ‘[male or female] chancellor’). Moreover, self-evaluation and evaluations by others were found to be influenced by linguistic forms. Thus, girls assumed women to be less successful in typically male occupations when the jobs were described with masculine rather than gender-fair forms, and they were also less interested in these occupations (see also Chatard et al., 2005 ; Vervecken et al., 2013 ). Using feminine-masculine word pairs rather than masculine forms for traditionally male occupations boosted children’s self-efficacy ( Vervecken and Hannover, 2015 ). Furthermore, occupations described in pair forms mitigated the difference between ascribed success to female and male jobholders in gendered occupations ( Vervecken et al., 2015 ). Also, women’s perceptions of belonging were found to mediate the effect that women found jobs advertised in the masculine less appealing ( Gaucher et al., 2011 ). Accordingly, women experienced the use of gender-exclusive language during a mock job interview as ostracism ( Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ). They reported a lower sense of belonging when gender-exclusive language ( he ) was used compared to gender-inclusive ( he or she ) or gender-neutral ( one ) forms. In a study on Austrian German, the wording of job advertisements influenced the evaluation of candidates for leadership positions ( Horvath and Sczesny, 2015 ): men were perceived as fitting a high-status leadership position better than women when a masculine job title was used ( Geschäftsführer , masc. ‘chief executive officer, CEO’). But when the job ad was gender-fair ( Geschäftsführerin/Geschäftsführer , fem./masc. ‘[female/male] CEO’), women and men were judged as equally suited. In the context of a lower-status position (project leader) no differences of this kind occurred.

Language Policies

Many countries have pledged themselves to an equal treatment of women and men (e.g., the member states of the European Union and associated states in the Treaty of Lisbon- European Commission, 2007 ), and the use of GFL is widely recommended ( Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, 1996 , revised in 2009; UNESCO, 1999 ; National Council of Teachers of English, 2002 ; European Commission, 2008 ; American Psychological Association, 2009 ). But the implementation of GFL has reached different stages in different countries and speech communities.

In the 1970s, guidelines for GFL were introduced in particular professional domains across national and linguistic boundaries, for example, by the American Psychological Association (1975) , by the McGraw-Hill Book Company (1974 ; see also Britton and Lumpkin, 1977 ; Sunderland, 2011 ) and the Macmillan Publishing Company (1975) . These guidelines demand that authors of (psychological) articles, books, teaching materials, or fiction treat women and men equally, including the language they use (see also Sadker et al., 1991 ). Publication guidelines of this kind have been effective, because authors need to follow the rules if they want to see their manuscripts published. In texts written by Australian academics ( Pauwels, 2003 ), for example, masculine generic pronouns were infrequent. Similarly, an analysis of American Psychological Association journal articles from the years 1965–2004 revealed a complete absence of generic he from 1985 onward, even if the articles still contained other, more subtle gender biases such as androcentric reporting in tables and graphs ( Hegarty and Buechel, 2006 ).

In 1987 representatives of Canada and the Nordic countries argued for an adoption of GFL by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization . This resulted in the creation of guidelines in UNESCO (1999) . UNESCO’s position in favor of GFL is described in their gender equality guidelines: “This development indicated a growing awareness that language does not merely reflect the way we think: it also shapes our thinking. If words and expressions that imply that women are inferior to men are constantly used, that assumption of inferiority tends to become part of our mindset; hence the need to adjust our language when our ideas evolve” ( UNESCO, 2011 , p. 4). The document not only became the most widely recognized international standard for GFL, it also regulates language use in internal documents and publications of UNESCO. Similar guidelines for publications were issued by the European Commission (2008) , referring to all working languages of the European Union (EU). Yet, the standards promoted by UNESCO and the EU do not regulate language use in the different countries and are not considered mandatory within their member states.

The availability of GFL policies and the extent of their implementation, that is, their dissemination and execution, also vary considerably between countries ( Moser et al., 2011 ). In Italy, for instance, guidelines for GFL were issued in Sabatini (1987) , in the German-speaking area most guidelines appeared in the 1990s (e.g., Hellinger and Bierbach, 1993 ; Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, 1996 ; revised in 2009), and in the Czech Republic guidelines were published only in Valdrová et al. (2010) . In other countries such as Poland there are as yet no official guidelines at all. While in some states GFL policies are mentioned only on the website of a ministry (e.g., Czech Republic; Valdrová et al., 2010 ), use of GFL is mandatory in job ads and public administration in Austria. Since the 1990s the German Duden dictionaries, for example, have included not only the masculine form of personal nouns and job titles but routinely cite the corresponding feminine forms ( Kunkel-Razum, 2004 ). The dictionary lists even feminine forms that are infrequent in texts. An example is the word Päpstin ‘female pope,’ which has been listed in the Grosses Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Large dictionary of the German language) from the year 1999 onward, even though obviously there never was a female pope in the history of the Catholic Church ( Kunkel-Razum, 2004 ). Moreover, the Duden editors decided to include a chapter on the “equal treatment of women and men in language” in the ninth volume of the series Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (Correct and good German). The chapter describes the linguistic potential which the German language offers for speaking or writing in a gender-fair way.

In the German-speaking countries, language policies have become part of the organizational culture of various institutions such as universities and administrations (e.g., Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, 1996 , revised in 2009; Merkel, 2011 ; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, 2011 ; Gendup – Zentrum für Gender Studies und Frauenförderung, 2012 ). Even so, Austria is the only country where the use of GFL in job advertisements is strictly prescribed and companies are fined for failing to address both genders in their job ads ( Bundesministerium für Frauen und Öffentlichen Dienst, 2009 ). This may be the reason why the proportion of job ads worded in GFL differs between Austria and German-speaking Switzerland: only 9% of Austrian job advertisements contain masculine generics, whereas it is 27% in Switzerland ( Hodel et al., 2013 ).

School and education are of particular importance for the implementation of GFL. In most countries there are few official GFL guidelines for authors of educational materials ( Eurydice, 2009 ) and regulations concerning schoolbooks exist only in certain countries (e.g., Germany, Ireland, or Iceland). Similarly, only a few countries require schoolbooks to be officially evaluated or approved. In the UK, for example, educational authorities do not monitor teaching materials and schools choose them autonomously. Today German schoolbooks for mathematics and German mostly use gender-neutral forms, followed by masculine generics and feminine-masculine word pairs, ( Moser and Hannover, 2014 ). The two gender-fair options together (word pairs and neutralizing) outweighed the masculine in the schoolbook sample that was analyzed. Since earlier studies on German schoolbooks (e.g., Lindner and Lukesch, 1994 ; Preinsberger and Weisskircher, 1997 ) reported a predominance of masculine generics, this finding indicates an increase of GFL in schoolbooks. In some of the texts, however, feminine-masculine word pairs were mixed with masculine generics (see also Markom and Weinhäupl, 2007 ). This inconsistency is problematic because in the presence of word pairs masculine forms may be understood as referring to male persons only (e.g., Gabriel et al., 2008 ).

Individual Language Behavior

Apart from language structures and country-specific aspects, there are a number of factors that make individuals use or reject GFL. One major factor is the novelty of gender-fair forms, which conflicts with speakers’ linguistic habits ( Blaubergs, 1980 ). As long as this is the case, people may experience GFL as irritating, and consequentially may refrain from using it. This could explain why negative effects of GFL have been found especially in the initial phases of language reform such as, for instance, in English in the 1990s ( McConnell and Fazio, 1996 ), and in Italian and Polish in the beginning of the 21st century ( Mucchi-Faina, 2005 ; Merkel et al., 2012 ; Formanowicz et al., 2013 ).

Moreover, initiatives for GFL were first instigated by activist movements (e.g., Silveira, 1980 ; Pusch, 1984 ) and for that reason often met with negative reactions ( Blaubergs, 1980 ; Parks and Roberton, 1998 ; Formanowicz et al., 2013 ). It is conceivable that individual reactions toward GFL are not only caused by its novelty, but also depend on attitudes toward gender arrangements ( Jost and Kay, 2005 ; Carney et al., 2008 ), for conservative political attitudes are associated both with lesser openness for novelty ( Carney et al., 2008 ) and with stronger support for traditional gender arrangements ( Jost et al., 2003 , 2008 ; Hoyt, 2012 ). Thus, speakers of Polish with more conservative attitudes devaluated female job applicants referring to themselves with a feminine job title compared to female and male applicants using a masculine job title ( Formanowicz et al., 2013 ).

Another factor for individual speakers’ use of GFL might be speakers’ gender: women could be expected to hold more favorable attitudes toward GFL than men and they might be more inclined to use it in their own speech. However, research findings on this point are mixed. While in some studies men rejected GFL more than women did (e.g., Parks and Roberton, 2004 ; Douglas and Sutton, 2014 ), other studies found no gender difference in attitudes toward GFL (e.g., Sczesny et al., 2015 ). Gender differences were mediated by participants’ attitudes toward women, which were, in turn, driven by more comprehensive ideologies that justified the social gender hierarchy (i.e., gender-specific system justification and social dominance orientation; Douglas and Sutton, 2014 ).

Language use has been viewed as associated with speakers’ sexist attitudes , so much so that the use of sexist language has been regarded as an example of subtle sexism ( Swim et al., 2004 ). Modern sexism, for instance, is a view that denies that women are still discriminated against and disapproves of policies promoting gender equality ( Swim et al., 1995 ). In fact, participants with modern sexist beliefs were found to use more traditional, gender-unfair language ( Swim et al., 2004 ). Correspondingly, speakers with stronger sexist attitudes toward women used gender-fair pronouns less frequently than speakers with less sexist attitudes ( Jacobson and Insko, 1985 ). Speakers with progressive gender role perceptions, on the other hand, exhibited a tendency to avoid sexist language when writing an essay ( McMinn et al., 1991 ).

This raises the question how sexist or non-sexist ideologies translate into actual language behavior. Spontaneous use of GFL was found to be guided by explicit intentions to use GFL as well as more implicit processes involving use of GFL in the past ( Sczesny et al., 2015 ). GFL use was not predicted directly by sexist beliefs but by intentions and habits. In other words, sexist speakers do not avoid GFL just because they are reluctant to change their linguistic habits, they deliberately employ a form of language that treats males as the norm and makes women less visible. Habits guide speakers’ linguistic behavior without their being aware of it ( Sczesny et al., 2015 ), and learning processes play a role for GFL to become a habit. S peakers who grew up with schoolbooks using predominantly masculine generics (e.g., English: Hellinger, 1980 ; Campbell and Schram, 1995 ; Lee and Collins, 2008 ; German: Lindner and Lukesch, 1994 ; Preinsberger and Weisskircher, 1997 ) tend not to question this usage. But once speakers have acquired the habit of using GFL they will rely on this language form. Establishing GFL habits via teaching and practicing current linguistic standards (e.g., Duden; Kunkel-Razum, 2004 ) is a promising approach which should follow the initial phase of GFL implementation and may reduce political controversies. In this sense, a prevalence of GFL in the media could also promote the use of GFL by individual speakers.

So far, few studies have investigated how speakers can be made to use and approve of GFL. After training interventions, speakers of English used slightly more gender-fair pronouns in completing sentences than non-attendants ( McMinn and Foster, 1991 ; McMinn et al., 1991 ; Prentice, 1994 ). Their attitudes, however, did not change ( Prentice, 1994 ). German speakers as well used more GFL after being exposed to arguments for GFL than in a control condition ( Koeser and Sczesny, 2014 ), but this did not affect their attitudes toward GFL. Interestingly, merely reading texts in gender-fair wording can also increase speakers’ own use of GFL: female speakers of German employed more gender-fair forms after reading a gender-fair text than after other texts, but there was no such effect for men ( Koeser et al., 2015 ). Male speakers increased their use of gender-fair forms only when their attention was drawn to GFL forms. These findings indicate that it is more difficult to change attitudes than to promote speakers’ actual use of GFL.

Overcoming Gender Stereotyping And Discrimination With Gender-Fair Language?

Over the past decades, a large body of research—based on various experimental methodologies, from storytelling to measuring reaction times—has confirmed the influence of linguistic forms on the accessibility of mental representations of women and men (see Stahlberg et al., 2007 ). Regardless of language structure and of the ease of implementing GFL ( Bußmann and Hellinger, 2003 ), a consistent finding is that speakers do not understand masculine forms as referring to both genders equally but that they interpret them in a male-biased way. This underscores the importance of implementing GFL in everyday language and of using it consistently, so that speakers take up this usage in their own texts and utterances.

How successful have the respective language policies been so far? In natural gender languages , neutralization has been fairly easy to adopt and implement (e.g., English, Danish). But even in these language communities people are guided by their knowledge about typical gender distributions in social roles. Thus, English readers tend to associate different occupations or role nouns with men or women, since gender stereotypes are incorporated in their mental representations ( Oakhill et al., 2005 ); and even though there are fewer gender-marked forms in natural gender languages, masculine generics exist and their use can result in social discrimination ( Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ). In grammatical gender languages , feminization as the main strategy of GFL still poses challenges. This is especially true for some languages, e.g., Italian ( Merkel et al., 2012 ) and Slavic languages ( Koniuszaniec and Blaszkowa, 2003 ), where the creation of feminine forms can be problematic, as outlined above. Refusal of GFL can still be observed ( Formanowicz and Sczesny, 2014 ). Such disadvantages are likely to occur while the change is in progress ( Formanowicz et al., 2015 ).

Moreover, our review suggests that—independent of language structure—GFL is more frequent and more accepted when it is backed by official regulations and when the use of biased language is sanctioned in some way (e.g., in official publications or texts; American Psychological Association, 1975 , 2009 ; Bundesministerium für Frauen und Öffentlichen Dienst, 2009 ; see Hodel et al., 2013 ). The relationship between policy-making and social change is surely bidirectional. On the one hand, gender equality movements and their demands find their way into legislation. On the other hand, official regulations may stipulate social change by facilitating the internalization of new norms and enforcing their execution. Public discussions over policies also enhance public awareness for GFL (see above the singular pronouns they in English and hen in Swedish). The contribution of language reforms to gender equality in a society/speech community can best be assessed with investigations that compare countries sharing the same language (e.g., French in Canada and in France) as well as countries with different languages (e.g., Polish and German, two grammatical languages at different stages of implementing GFL). Although there have been some attempts at this type of research ( Formanowicz et al., 2015 ; Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2015 ) more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of language-related policies and provide an evidence-based rationale for policy-making.

As mentioned above, speakers’ use of GFL results from deliberate processes, involving attitudes and intentions, and habitual processes, involving repetition of past behavior ( Sczesny et al., 2015 ). Both types of processes are relevant for the successful implementation of GFL. Despite the various guidelines and legal regulations for GFL that exist on global and national levels, spontaneous use of GFL by individual speakers still seems to be infrequent. For instance, use of GFL in a gap-filling task was quite low among speakers of German from Germany and Switzerland, although GFL policies are fairly advanced in both countries. Most of the participants used more masculine generics than gender-fair forms. As language use is an action performed in a wide range of circumstances, future research should also assess the contiguity between behavior and context. Speakers may employ GFL when writing official texts, for instance, but not when talking or writing to friends. Moreover, attitudes, norms, and intentions concerning GFL in general seem to be only moderately favorable. Even though positive arguments for GFL can help to promote a change in language behavior ( Koeser and Sczesny, 2014 ), future research should attempt to identify factors that are crucial for a deliberate use of GFL. For instance, it might be worthwhile to determine the content and strength of attitudes in different groups of speakers, namely speakers who use GFL regularly compared to speakers who use GFL only occasionally and others who do not use it at all. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the processes underlying a rejection of GFL, future research could also take a closer look at people’s political attitudes ( Formanowicz et al., 2013 ), their preference for status quo, and their acceptance of traditional gender arrangements ( Jost et al., 2008 ).

In any case, attitudes toward GFL may become more favorable the more frequently and longer GFL has been used (in addition to a mere exposure effect, Zajonc, 1968 , see also the existence bias: people treat the existence of something as evidence of its goodness; Eidelman et al., 2009 ). The role of familiarity for an active use of GFL can best addressed with longitudinal studies. In Sweden, for example, speakers’ attitudes toward the gender-neutral pronoun hen have become more positive over time ( Gustafsson Sendén et al., 2015 ). A meta-analytical approach would constitute another way of capturing the dynamics of GFL implementation, taking into account the time when the studies were conducted but also the availability of policies and the structure of the languages concerned. This approach might help to determine whether a language has left the phase where GFL evokes negative associations as well as the role of other factors (such as language policies).

Interventions aiming to increase the use of GFL could focus on a simple repetition of non-sexist expressions, so that these become established habits ( Koeser et al., 2015 ; Wood and Rünger, 2016 ). This would be a very subtle and implicit way of promoting use of GFL. The development and evaluation of GFL interventions/trainings has not yet been investigated systematically. Future research should take both deliberate and habitual processes of GFL use into consideration, for instance, by analyzing whether children—exposed to and trained in GFL at school (with the help of current schoolbooks)—will later use GFL habitually and consequently hold less gender-stereotypic beliefs.

Finally, there are still obstacles that prevent GFL from becoming a linguistic norm/standard and prevent the change toward an equal treatment of women and men. First, the male bias of linguistic asymmetries in mental representations is backed by a higher prevalence of men in certain social roles (e.g., heroes, politicians), which facilitates their cognitive accessibility ( Stahlberg and Sczesny, 2001 ). Once women and men occupy all social roles to a similar extent (see social role theory, which poses that gender stereotype content results from observing women and men in certain societal roles; Eagly, 1987 ; Bosak et al., 2012 ), this difference in accessibility should decrease and more gender-balanced mental representations should emerge. Ironically, recent research has documented that linguistic asymmetries prevent girls and women from aspiring to male-dominated roles (see Chatard et al., 2005 ; Gaucher et al., 2011 ; Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ; Vervecken et al., 2013 ; Vervecken and Hannover, 2015 ) and thereby perpetuate the higher accessibility of men in these roles.

Second, the use of gender-unfair language, especially of masculine generics, restricts the visibility of women and the cognitive availability of female exemplars ( Stahlberg et al., 2007 ), which may be disadvantageous for women (e.g., in personnel selection; Stout and Dasgupta, 2011 ; Horvath and Sczesny, 2015 ). However, increasing the visibility of women with the help of novel feminine forms may also have negative consequences and may therefore be avoided, for instance, in women’s professional self-reference ( Merkel et al., 2012 ; Formanowicz et al., 2013 ). Thus, the avoidance of GFL by women (e.g., avoidance of feminine job titles in grammatical gender languages), in order to protect themselves from ascriptions of incompetence or lower status, also perpetuates the reduction of gender stereotyping and social discrimination.

Third, arguments against GFL have routinely included the presumed difficulty of understanding GFL texts ( Parks and Roberton, 1998 ). Empirical investigations have refuted this argument and have shown that text quality ( Rothmund and Christmann, 2002 ) and cognitive processing were not damaged ( Braun et al., 2007 ). When GFL texts were compared to (generic) masculine texts, there were no differences in readability and esthetic appeal ( Blake and Klimmt, 2010 ). In all, the empirical evidence does not confirm the alleged disadvantage of GFL. Yet, these findings and the scientific evidence for serious disadvantages of masculine generics (see above) have largely been ignored in political controversies and public discussions about GFL. In all, there is a lack of transfer of scientific knowledge which prevents the understanding of linguistic asymmetries as part of a broader gender imbalance and hinders social change. Education and policy-making therefore need to increase the efforts of circulating new scientific insights about GFL to break the vicious circle of ill-informed controversies and discussions about GFL.

At first glance linguistic gender asymmetries seem to affect mostly women. When masculine forms are used it is women who are seen as less prototypical category exemplars, it is women who feel less adequate or are less preferred as job candidates, and it is women who profit from GFL. Therefore, the question arises whether GFL benefits men as well. First, the introduction of GFL might represent a particular challenge for men. In a study by Crawford and English (1984) both male and female participants read a text whose title contained either masculine generics ( Psychologist and his work? ) or GFL ( Psychologist and their work? ) and were to recall the text after 2 days. As the results showed, men’s recall was better in the masculine and women’s recall in the GFL condition. This finding indicates that learning to use GFL involves more than overcoming linguistic novelty. For men, GFL means an unwelcome loss of their privileged position in language. Only in few situations have they something to gain through GFL. If all job advertisements would contain GFL, for instance, men might be more included in traditionally female jobs which used to be referred to in the feminine. Future research should also consider the perspective of men and examine how GFL can turn into a win–win situation for women and men in modern societies.

To conclude, past research has revealed that GFL has the potential to make significant contributions to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. But as the body of existing evidence is based mainly on experimental paradigms with different kinds of measures, future research should take a closer look on people’s actual language use in everyday life (e.g., in conversations, in the classroom, in social media or organizational communication). Moreover, it will be fruitful to further investigate the dynamics of GFL usage and its effects from cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspectives (see above the Marie Curie Initial Training Network - Language, Cognition, and Gender, ITN LCG , which can be regarded as a first step in this direction). Speakers’ willingness to use GFL in everyday life is crucial in order to profit from the impact of GFL on the (linguistic and social) treatment of women and men in society. But a deliberate effort is required before the use of GFL can become habitual. Education and policy-making can facilitate these processes. When employed consistently over a longer period, and especially when supported by well-informed controversies and discussions, GFL will contribute even more to the reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination and may thus function as another barometer for change (like the decrease in gender-stereotypical social perception of leadership, Schein, 2001 ).

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. The reviewer Simona Mancini and handling Editor Manuel Carreiras declared their shared affiliation, and the handling Editor states that the process nevertheless met the standards of a fair and objective review.

Funding. This research was conducted within the Marie Curie Initial Training Network: Language, Cognition, and Gender , ITN LCG, funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n°237907 ( www.itn-lcg.eu ). We thank Friederike Braun for her valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

1 In the literature, GFL is also referred to with other terms, e.g., gender-neutral language : Sarrasin et al. (2012) ; gender-inclusive language : Stout and Dasgupta (2011) ; non-sexist language : Douglas and Sutton (2014) .

2 According to McConnell-Ginet (2013) , however, the concept of natural gender language is a myth, and she suggests calling the respective languages “notional” gender languages, since, for example in English, “concepts and ideas about biological sex matter at least as much as sex itself to the choice of English third-person pronouns.” (p. 3).

  • American Psychological Association (1975). Guidelines for nonsexist use of language. Am. Psychol. 30 682–684. 10.1037/h0076869 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • American Psychological Association (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: Supplemental Material , 6th Edn. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Banaji M. R., Hardin C. D. (1996). Automatic stereotyping. Psychol. Sci. 7 136–141. 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00346.x [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bem S. L., Bem D. J. (1973). Does sex-biased job advertising “aid and abet” sex discrimination? J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 3 6–18. 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1973.tb01290.x [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Blake C., Klimmt C. (2010). Geschlechtergerechte Formulierungen in Nachrichtentexten [Gender-fair formulations in news texts]. Publizistik 55 289–304. 10.1007/s11616-010-0093-2 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Blaubergs M. S. (1980). An analysis of classic arguments against changing sexist language. Womens Stud. Int. Q. 3 135–147. 10.1016/S0148-0685(80)92071-0 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bojarska K. (2011). Wpływ androcentrycznych i inkluzywnych płciowo konstrukcji językowych na skojarzenia z płcią [The impact of the andocentric and gender-inclusive language constructions on the gendered asssociations]. Stud. Psychol. 49 53–68. 10.2478/v10167-011-0010-y [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bosak J., Sczesny S., Eagly A. H. (2012). The impact of social roles on trait judgments – a critical re-examination. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 38 429–440. 10.1177/0146167211427308 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Braun F., Gottburgsen A., Sczesny S., Stahlberg D. (1998). Können Geophysiker Frauen sein? Generische Personenbezeichnungen im Deutschen [Can geophysicists be women?Generic terms for describing persons in German]. Z. Ger. Linguist. 26 177–195. 10.1515/zfgl.1998.26.3.265 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Braun F., Oelkers S., Rogalski K., Bosak J., Sczesny S. (2007). “For reasons of intelligibility.” How masculine generics and alternative forms affect the cognitive processing of a text. Psychol. Rundsch. 58 183–189. 10.1026/0033-3042.58.3.183 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Braun F., Sczesny S., Stahlberg D. (2005). Cognitive effects of masculine generics in German: an overview of empirical findings. Communications 30 1–21. 10.1515/comm.2005.30.1.1 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Britton G. E., Lumpkin M. C. (1977). For sale: subliminal bias in textbooks. Read. Teach. 31 40–45. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bundesministerium für Frauen und Öffentlichen Dienst (2009). Geschlechtergerechte Stellenausschreibungen [Gender-Fair Job Advertisements]. Unabhängiger Bericht der Gleichbehandlungsanwaltschaft iS §3 Abs 5 GBK/GAW-Gesetz, Wien. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bußmann H., Hellinger M. (2003). “ Engendering female visibility in German ,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 3 eds Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; ), 141–173. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Cacciari C., Padovani R. (2007). Further evidence on gender stereotype priming in language: semantic facilitation and inhibition on Italian role nouns. Appl. Psycholinguist. 28 277–293. 10.1017/S0142716407070142 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Campbell R., Schram P. J. (1995). Feminist research methods. A content analysis of psychology and social science textbooks. Psychol. Women Q. 19 85–106. 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1995.tb00280.x [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Carney D. R., Jost J. T., Samuel D., Gosling S. D., Potter J. (2008). The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind. Polit. Psychol. 29 807–840. 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00668.x [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Carreiras M., Garnham A., Oakhill J. V., Cain K. (1996). The use of stereotypical gender information in constructing a mental model: evidence from English and Spanish. Q. J. Exp. Psychol. A 49 639–663. 10.1080/027249896392531 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Chatard A., Guimond S., Martinot D. (2005). Impact de la féminisation lexicale des professions sur l’auto-efficacité des élèves: une remise en cause de l’universalisme masculin? Année Psychol. 105 249–272. 10.3406/psy.2005.29694 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Crawford M., English L. (1984). Generic versus specific inclusion of women in language: effects on recall. J. Psycholinguist. Res. 13 373–381. 10.1007/BF01068152 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Doleschal U., Schmid S. (2001). “ Doing gender in Russian ,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 1 eds Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; ), 253–282. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Douglas K. M., Sutton R. M. (2014). “A giant leap for mankind” but what about women? The role of system-justifying ideologies in predicting attitudes toward sexist language. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 33 667–680. 10.1177/0261927X14538638 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Eagly A. H. (1987). Sex Differences in Social Behavior. A Social-Role Interpretation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Eidelman S., Crandall C. S., Pattershall J. (2009). The existence bias. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 97 765–775. 10.1037/a0017058 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Engelberg M. (2002). “ The communication of gender in Finnish ,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 2 eds Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; ), 109–132. [ Google Scholar ]
  • European Commission (2007). Treaty of Lisbon. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/archives/lisbon_treaty/full_text/index_en.htm [ Google Scholar ]
  • European Commission (2008). Gender-Neutral Language in the European Parliament. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/publications/2009/0001/P6_PUB(2009)0001_EN.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Eurydice (2009). Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: Study on the Measures Taken and the Current Situation in Europe. Available at: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/thematic_reports_en.php [ Google Scholar ]
  • Fairclough N. (2003). Political correctness: the politics of culture and language. Discourse Soc. 14 17–28. 10.1177/0957926503014001927 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Formanowicz M., Bedynska S., Cisłak A., Braun F., Sczesny S. (2013). Side effects of gender-fair language: how feminine job titles influence the evaluation of female applicants. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 43 62–71. 10.1002/ejsp.1924 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Formanowicz M., Sczesny S. (2014). Gender-Fair language and professional self-reference: the case of female psychologists in Polish. J. Mix. Methods Res. 10 64–81. 10.1177/1558689814550877 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Formanowicz M. M., Cisłak A., Horvath L. K., Sczesny S. (2015). Capturing socially motivated linguistic change: how the use of gender-fair language affects support for social initiatives in Austria and Poland. Front. Psychol. 6 : 1617 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01617 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gabriel U., Gygax P., Sarrasin O., Garnham A., Oakhill J. (2008). Au-pairs are rarely male: role names’ gender stereotype information across three languages. Behav. Res. Methods 40 206–212. 10.3758/BRM.40.1.206 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gastil J. (1990). Generic pronouns and sexist language: the oxymoronic character of masculine generics. Sex Roles 23 629–643. 10.1007/BF0028925 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gaucher D., Friesen J., Kay A. C. (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisement exists and sustains gender inequality. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 101 109–128. 10.1037/a0022530 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gendup – Zentrum für Gender Studies und Frauenförderung (2012). Leitfaden für einen gerechten Sprachgebrauch [Guideline for Gender-Fair Language]. Available at: http://www.uni-salzburg.at/fileadmin/oracle_file_imports/2103374.PDF [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gustafsson Sendén M., Bäck E. A., Lindqvist A. (2015). Introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in a natural gender language: the influence of time on attitudes and behavior. Front. Psychol. 6 : 893 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00893 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gustafsson Sendén M., Lindholm T., Sikström S. (2014). Biases in news media as reflected by personal pronouns in evaluative contexts. Soc. Psychol. 45 103–111. 10.1027/1864-9335/a000165 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hamilton M. C. (1988). Using masculine generics: does generic he increase male bias in the user’s imagery? Sex Roles 19 785–799. 10.1007/bf00288993 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hausmann R., Tyson L. D., Zahidi S. (2009). The Global Gender Gap Report 2009. Geneva: World Economic Forum. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hegarty P., Buechel C. (2006). Androcentric reporting of gender differences in APA journals: 1965-2004. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 10 377–389. 10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.377 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Heise E. (2000). Sind Frauen mitgemeint? Eine empirische Untersuchung zum Verständnis des generischen Maskulinums und seiner Alternativen [Are women included? An empirical investigation of interpretations of masculine generics and their alternatives]. Sprache Kogn. 19 3–13. 10.1024//0253-4533.19.12.3 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hellinger M. (1980). For men must work and women must weep: sexism in English language textbooks used in German schools. Womens Stud. Int. Q. 3 267–275. 10.1016/S0148-0685(80)92323-4 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hellinger M., Bierbach C. (1993). Eine Sprache für beide Geschlechter. Richtlinien für einen nicht-sexistischen Sprachgebrauch. [A Language for Both Genders. Guidelines for a Non-Sexist Language Use]. Available at: http://www.unesco.de/fileadmin/medien/Dokumente/Bibliothek/eine_sprache.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (2001, 2002, 2003). Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 1 2 3 Amsterdam: Benjamins. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hentschel E. (2003). “ Serbian: the expression of gender in Serbian ,” in Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 3 eds Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; ), 287–309. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hodel L., Formanowicz M., Sczesny S., Valdrova J., von Stockhausen L. (2013). “ Gender fair language use in online job Avertisements ,” in Proceedings of the 16th Conference of European Association of Work & Organisational Psychology (EAWOP) , Münster. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Horvath L. K., Sczesny S. (2015). Reducing women’s lack of fit with leadership? Effects of the wording of job advertisements. Eur. J. Work Organ. Psychol. 10.1080/1359432X.2015.1067611 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hoyt C. L. (2012). Gender bias in employment contexts: a closer examination of the role incongruity principle. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 48 86–96. 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.08.004 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Irmen L. (2007). What’s in a (role) name? Formal and conceptual aspects of comprehending personal nouns. J. Psycholinguist. Res. 36 431–456. 10.1007/s10936-007-9053-z [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Irmen L., Roßberg N. (2004). Gender markedness of language. The impact of grammatical and nonlinguistic information on the mental representation of person information. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 23 272–307. 10.1177/0261927X04266810 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Jacobson M. B., Insko W. R., Jr. (1985). Use of non-sexist pronouns as a function of one’s feminist orientation. Sex Roles 13 1–7. 10.1007/BF00287456 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Jost J. T., Glaser J., Kruglanski A. W., Sulloway F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychol. Bull. 129 339–375. 10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.33 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Jost J. T., Kay A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 88 498–509. 10.1037/0022-3514.88.3.498 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Jost J. T., Nosek B. A., Gosling S. D. (2008). Ideology: its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 3 126–136. 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00070.x [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Koeser S., Kuhn E. A., Sczesny S. (2015). Just reading? How gender-fair language triggers readers‘ use of gender-fair forms. Advance online publication. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 34 343–357. 10.1177/0261927X14561119 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Koeser S., Sczesny S. (2014). Promoting gender-fair language: the impact of arguments on language use, attitudes, and cognitions. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 33 548–560. 10.1177/0261927X14541280 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Koniuszaniec G., Blaszkowa H. (2003). “ Language and gender in Polish ,” in Gender Across Languages. The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 3 eds Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; ), 259–285. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Kunkel-Razum K. (2004). “ Die Frauen und der Duden – der Duden und die Frauen [The women and the Duden – the Duden and the women] ,” in Adam, Eva und Die Sprache, Beiträge zur Geschlechterforschung [Adam, Eve and the Language] , ed. Eichhoff-Cyrus K. M. (Mannheim: Dudenverlag; ), 308–315. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lee J. F. K., Collins P. (2008). Gender voices in Hong Kong English textbooks – some past and current practices. Sex Roles 59 127–137. 10.1007/s11199-008-9414-6 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lindner V., Lukesch H. (1994). Geschlechtsrollenstereotype im Deutschen Schulbuch. [Gender Stereotypes in German Schoolbooks]. Regensburg: S. Roderer Verlag. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Maass A., Suitner C., Merkel E. (2013). “ Does political correctness make (social) sense? ,” in Social Cognition and Communication , eds Forgas J. P., Vincze O., Laszlo J. (New York, NY: Psychology Press; ), 331–346. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Macmillan Publishing Company (1975). Guidelines for Creating Positive Sexual and Racial Images in Educational Materials. New York, NY: Macmillan. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Marcato G., Thüne E. M. (2002). “ Gender and female visibility in Italian ,” in Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men Vol. 2 eds Hellinger M., Bußmann H. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; ), 187–217. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Markom C., Weinhäupl H. (2007). Die Anderen im Schulbuch. Rassismen, Exotismen, Sexismen und Antisemitismus in österreichischen Schulbüchern. [The Others in Schoolbooks. Racism, Exocitism, Sexism, and Anti-Semitism in Austrian Schoolbooks]. Wien: Braumüller. [ Google Scholar ]
  • McConnell A. R., Fazio R. H. (1996). Women as men and people: effects of gender-marked language. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 22 1004–1013. 10.1177/01461672962210003 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • McConnell-Ginet S. (2013). “ Gender and its relation to sex: the myth of ‘natural’ gender ,” in The Expression of Gender , ed. Corbett G. G. (Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton; ), 3–38. [ Google Scholar ]
  • McGraw-Hill Book Company (1974). Guidelines for Equal Treatment of the Sexes. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company. [ Google Scholar ]
  • McMinn M. R., Foster J. D. (1991). A computer program to teach nonsexist language. Teach. Psychol. 18 115–117. 10.1207/s15328023top1802_16 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • McMinn M. R., Troyer P. K., Hannum L. E., Foster J. D. (1991). Teaching nonsexist language to college students. J. Exp. Educ. 59 153–161. 10.1080/00220973.1991.10806558 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Merkel E. (2011). Geschlechtergerechte Sprache in den universitären Gleichstellungskonzepten: Eine vergleichende Analyse [Gender-Fair Language in University Concepts of Gender-Equality: A Comparative Analysis]. Essen: Netzwerk Frauen– und Geschlechterforschung NRW. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Merkel E., Maass A., Frommelt L. (2012). Shielding women against status loss. The masculine form and its alternatives in the Italian language. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 31 311–320. 10.1177/0261927X12446599 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Moser F., Hannover B. (2014). How gender fair are German schoolbooks in the twenty-first century? An analysis of language and illustrations in schoolbooks for mathematics and German. Eur. J. Psychol. Educ. 29 387–407. 10.1007/s10212-013-0204-3 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Moser F., Sato S., Chiarini T., Dmitrov-Devold K., Kuhn E. (2011). Comparative Analysis of Existing Guidelines for Gender-Fair Language within the ITN LCG Network (Work Package B ITN LCG). Available at: http://www.unifr.ch/psycho/itn-lcg/assets/files/ITN_publications/guidelines_final_may2011.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Mucchi-Faina A. (2005). Visible or influential? Language reforms and gender (in)equality. Soc. Sci. Inform. 44 189–215. 10.1177/0539018405050466 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • National Council of Teachers of English (2002). Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language. Available at: www.ncte.org/positions/statements/genderfairuseoflang [ Google Scholar ]
  • Ng S. H. (1990). Androcentric coding of man and his in memory by language users. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 26 455–464. 10.1016/0022-1031(90)90069-x [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Oakhill J., Garnham A., Reynolds D. (2005). Immediate activation of stereotypical gender information. Mem. Cognit. 33 972–983. 10.3758/bf03193206 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Parks J. B., Roberton M. A. (1998). Contemporary arguments against nonsexist language: Blaubergs (1980) revisited. Sex Roles 39 445–461. 10.1023/A:1018827227128 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Parks J. B., Roberton M. A. (2004). Attitudes toward women mediate the gender effect on attitudes toward sexist language. Psychol. Women Q. 28 233–239. 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00140.x [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Paterson L. L. (2014). British Pronoun Use, Prescription, and Processing: Linguistic and Social Influences Affecting ‘They’ and ‘He’. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pauwels A. (2003). “ Linguistic sexism and feminist linguistic activism ,” in The Handbook of Language and Gender , eds Meyerhoff M., Holmes J. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; ), 550–570. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Preinsberger A., Weisskircher E. (1997). “ Mathematikschulbücher – eine aktuelle Untersuchung [Mathematics books – a recent examination] ,” in Schule Weiblich – Schule Männlich. Zum Geschlechterverhältnis im Bildungswesen [Female School – Male School. On Gender Relations in the Educational System] , eds Lassnigg L., Paseka A. (Innsbruck: Studien Verlag; ), 132–143. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Prentice D. A. (1994). Do language reforms change our way of thinking? J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 13 3–19. 10.1177/0261927X94131001 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Prewitt-Freilino J. L., Caswell T. A., Laakso E. K. (2012). The gendering of language: a comparison of gender equality in countries with gendered, natural gender, and genderless languages. Sex Roles 66 268–281. 10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pusch L. F. (1984). Das Deutsche als Männersprache. Aufsätze und Glossen zur Feministischen Linguistik [German as a Male language]. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Ridgeway C. L., Correll S. J. (2004). Unpacking the gender system: a theoretical perspective on gender beliefs and social relations. Gend. Soc. 18 510–531. 10.1177/0891243204265269 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Rothmund J., Christmann U. (2002). Auf der Suche nach einem geschlechtergerechten Sprachgebrauch. Führt die Ersetzung des generischen Maskulinums zu einer Beeinträchtigung von Textqualitäten? [In search of gender-fair language. Does replacement of masculine generics impair text quality?]. Muttersprache 112 115–135. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sabatini A. (1987). Il Sessismo Nella Lingua Italiana, Commissione Nazionale per la Realizzazione Della Parità tra Uomo e Donna, Roma. Available at: http://www.funzionepubblica.gov.it/media/962032/il%20sessismo%20nella%20lingua%20italiana.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sadker M., Sadker D., Klein S. (1991). The issue of gender in elementary and secondary eduation. Rev. Res. Educ. 17 269–334. 10.2307/1167334 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sarrasin O., Gabriel U., Gygax P. (2012). Sexism and attitudes toward gender-neutral language. The case of English, French, and German. Swiss J. Psychol. 71 113–124. 10.1024/1421-0185/a000078 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Schein V. E. (2001). A global look at psychological barriers to women’s progress in management. J. Soc. Issues 57 675–688. 10.1111/0022-4537.00235 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei (1996). Geschlechtergerechte Sprache. Leitfaden zum Geschlechtergerechten Formulieren im Deutschen. [Gender-Fair Language. Guideline for Gender-Fair Formulation in German]. Available at: http://www.bk.admin.ch/dokumentation/sprachen/04915/05313/index.html (revised in 2009). [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sczesny S., Moser F., Wood W. (2015). Beyond sexist beliefs: how do people decide to use gender-inclusive language? Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 41 943–954. 10.1177/0146167215585727 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Silveira J. (1980). Generic masculine words and thinking. Womens Stud. Int. Q. 3 165–178. 10.1016/s0148-0685(80)92113-2 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Stahlberg D., Braun F., Irmen L., Sczesny S. (2007). “ Representation of the sexes in language ,” in Social Communication. A Volume in the Series Frontiers of Social Psychology , ed. Fiedler K. (New York, NY: Psychology Press; ), 163–187. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Stahlberg D., Sczesny S. (2001). Effekte des generischen Maskulinums und alternativer Sprachformen auf den gedanklichen Einbezug von Frauen [The impact of masculine generics on the cognitive inclusion of women]. Psychol. Rundsch. 52 131–140. 10.1026//0033-3042.52.3.131 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Stahlberg D., Sczesny S., Braun F. (2001). Name your favorite musician: effects of masculine generics and of their alternatives in German. J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 20 464–469. 10.1177/0261927x01020004004 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Stout J. G., Dasgupta N. (2011). When he doesn’t mean you: gender-exclusive language as ostracism. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 3 757–769. 10.1177/0146167211406434 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sunderland J. (2011). Language, Gender and Children’s Fiction. London: Continuum. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Swim J. K., Aikin K. J., Hall W. S., Hunter B. A. (1995). Sexism and racism: old-fashioned and modern prejudices. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 68 199–214. 10.1037/0022-3514.68.2.199 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Swim J. K., Mallet R., Stangor C. (2004). Understanding subtle sexism: detection and use of sexist language. Sex Roles 51 117–128. 10.1023/B:SERS.0000037757.731.06 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (2011). Die Zwölf Sprachregeln [Twelve Language Rules]. Available at: http://www.equal.ethz.ch/rules [ Google Scholar ]
  • Twenge J. M., Campbell W. K., Gentile B. (2012). Male and female pronoun use in US books reflects women’s status, 1900–2008. Sex Roles 67 488–493. 10.1007/s11199-012-0194-7 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • UNESCO (1999). Guidelines for Gender-Neutral Language. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001149/114950mo.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • UNESCO (2011). Priority Gender Equality Guidelines. Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/BSP/GENDER/GE%20Guidelines%20December%202_FINAL.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Valdrová J., Knotková-Capková B., Pacliková P. (2010). Kultura Genderove Vyvazeneho Vyjadrovani. Available at: http://data.idnes.cz/soubory/studium/A100125_BAR_GENDER_PRIRUCKA.PDF [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vervecken D., Gygax P. M., Gabriel U., Guillod M., Hannover B. (2015). Warm-hearted businessmen, competitive housewives? Effects of gender-fair language on adolescents’ perceptions of occupations. Front. Psychol. 6 : 1437 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01437 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vervecken D., Hannover B. (2012). Ambassadors of gender equality? How use of pair forms versus masculines as generics impacts perception of the speaker. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 42 754–762. 10.1002/ejsp.1893 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vervecken D., Hannover B. (2015). Yes I can! Effects of gender fair job descriptions on children’s perceptions of job status, job difficulty, and vocational self-efficacy. Soc. Psychol. 46 76–92. 10.1027/1864-9335/a000229 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vervecken D., Hannover B., Wolter I. (2013). Changing (s)expectations: how gender-fair job descriptions impact children’s perceptions and interest regarding traditionally male occupations. J. Vocat. Behav. 82 208–220. 10.1016/j.jvb.2013.01.008 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Wasserman B. D., Weseley A. J. (2009). Qué? Quoi? Do languages with grammatical gender promote sexist attitudes? Sex Roles 61 634–643. 10.1007/s11199-009-9696-3 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Wood W., Rünger D. (2016). Psychology of habit. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 67 11 1–11.26. 10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033417 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Zajonc R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 9 1–27. 10.1037/h0025848 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • École normale supérieure
  • Département d'études cognitives

ENS - Ecole Normale Supérieure

How Fair is Gender-Fair Language?

The study shows that, compared to the masculine form, the two gender-fair linguistic forms increase the estimated percentage of women, regardless of the type of profession. The authors observed an overall increase across gender-balanced or 'neutral' professions (e.g. musicien·ne·s, acteur·trice·s ou employé·e.s de banque), female-stereotyped professions (e.g. couturier·ère·s , assistant·e·s maternel·le ou esthéticien·ne·s) and male-stereotyped professions (e.g. éboueur·euse·s, electricien·ne·s ou mathématicien·ne·s).

hualin

TO GO FURTHER     Xiao H, Strickland B, Peperkamp S. (2022). How Fair is Gender-Fair Language? Insights from Gender Ratio Estimations in French .  Journal of Language and Social Psychology.  doi: 10.1177/0261927X221084643      Hualin Xiao's member page on theInstitut Jean Nicod website

cerveau

Semaine du cerveau 2024 à l'ENS - "Étudier et comprendre le cerveau sous influence"

Arbre

L’analyse computationnelle éclaire l'histoire des langues des signes

Wikithon

WIKITHON Femmes de sciences, du 5 au 9 février

gender fair language essay

Advertisement

Advertisement

Four Dimensions of Criticism Against Gender-Fair Language

  • Original Article
  • Open access
  • Published: 06 January 2020
  • Volume 83 , pages 328–337, ( 2020 )

Cite this article

You have full access to this open access article

  • Hellen Petronella Vergoossen   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3929-6019 1 ,
  • Emma Aurora Renström 2 ,
  • Anna Lindqvist 1 , 3 &
  • Marie Gustafsson Sendén 1 , 4  

32k Accesses

22 Citations

15 Altmetric

Explore all metrics

The gender-neutral third-person pronoun singular hen was recently introduced in Swedish as a complement to she ( hon ) and he ( han ). The initiative to add hen initially received strong criticism. In the present study, we analyzed 208 arguments from 168 participants with critical attitudes toward hen . We used Blaubergs’ ( 1980 ) and Parks and Roberton’s ( 1998 ) taxonomies of critical arguments against past gender-fair language reforms in English in the 1970s and 1990s as a basis for coding the arguments. A majority of arguments (80.7%) could be coded into existing categories, indicating that criticisms of gender-fair language initiatives are similar across different times and cultural contexts. Two categories of arguments did not fit existing categories (19.3%): gender-neutral pronouns are distracting in communication and gender information is important in communication. Furthermore, we established four overarching dimensions that capture assumptions and beliefs underlying gender-fair language criticism: (a) Defending the Linguistic Status Quo (39.4%), (b) Sexism and Cisgenderism (27.4%), (c) Diminishing the Issue and Its Proponents (26.9%), and (d) Distractor In Communication (6.3%). These dimensions of criticisms should be considered and addressed in different ways when implementing gender-fair language.

Similar content being viewed by others

gender fair language essay

Understanding left-wing authoritarianism: Relations to the dark personality traits, altruism, and social justice commitment

Ann Krispenz & Alex Bertrams

gender fair language essay

Gay and Straight Men Prefer Masculine-Presenting Gay Men for a High-Status Role: Evidence From an Ecologically Valid Experiment

Benjamin Gerrard, James Morandini & Ilan Dar-Nimrod

Slurs, roles and power

Mihaela Popa-Wyatt & Jeremy L. Wyatt

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

Gender-fair language strategies often face resistance. Negative attitudes have been documented against specific gender-fair reforms, such as the replacement of the masculine generic he with the paired form he/she (Blaubergs 1980 ), guidelines for non-sexist language (Parks and Roberton 1998 ), and the introduction of a gender-neutral pronoun (Gustafsson Sendén et al. 2015 ; Bäck et al. 2015 , 2018 ; Lindqvist et al. 2019 ).

Past research has discerned several arguments that are used against adopting gender-fair language. Blaubergs ( 1980 ) developed a taxonomy of arguments against gender-fair language in the wake of the proposal in the 1970s to replace the masculine generic he with he or she . Blaubergs analyzed a sample of arguments in newspapers articles, scientific journals and other media, and established eight categories of arguments: Cross-Cultural, Language Is a Trivial Concern, Freedom of Speech/Unjustified Coercion, Sexist Language Is Not Sexist, Word Etymology, Appeal to Authority, Change Is Too Difficult, Inconvenient, Impractical or Whatever (hereafter shortened to Change Is Too Difficult), and It Would Destroy Historical Authenticity and Literary Works (hereafter shortened to Historical Authenticity). Parks and Roberton ( 1998 ) extended Blaubergs’ taxonomy based on undergraduate’s arguments against gender-fair language with four more categories: Sexism Is Acceptable, Hostility Toward Proponents of Change, Tradition, and Lack of Understanding.

In Swedish, the gender-neutral third-person pronoun singular hen has been introduced as a complement to she ( hon ) and he ( han ) and is used as both a pronoun to refer to individuals with non-binary gender identities and as a generic pronoun (SAOL 2014 ). Hen ’s introduction received a lot of media attention in 2011, and in 2014 the pronoun was included in the Swedish dictionary. At first, there were heated debates in the media, in universities, and among laypeople (Milles 2013 ). In contrast to past reforms that added gendered (often feminine) forms to make women more salient, a gender-neutral pronoun reform reduces gender information. The present study examines whether arguments against the gender-neutral hen are similar to arguments from past gender-fair language reforms using feminization strategies in other cultural contexts. To this aim, the taxonomies of criticism developed by Blaubergs ( 1980 ) and Parks and Roberton ( 1998 ) were used to categorize the arguments against the gender-neutral pronoun hen .

Gender-Fair Language Planning

Feminist scholars have promoted gender-fair language for over half a century. In the 1970s, feminists considered the generic use of masculine pronouns and masculine occupational titles problematic and “both a symptom and a source of fundamental androcentrism” (Braun et al. 2005 , p. 3). Empirical studies have shown that masculine generics are androcentric because they more readily evoke mental images of men (Gastil 1990 ; Moulton et al. 1978 ). This connotation was for example shown in German where the generic masculine forms of roles and occupations were associated with men more frequently than with women (Stahlberg et al. 2001 ).

Furthermore, masculine generics influence attitudes and behavior, especially among women. For example, women were less motivated to apply for a job when masculine generics were used in a job advertisement (Bem and Bem 1973 ). Women also felt less belonging, motivation, and identification with a job when masculine generic pronouns were used in a mock interview compared to gender-fair alternatives (e.g., he or she ; one ; Stout and Dasgupta 2011 ). Social judgments can also be influenced by masculine generics. Women applying for jobs were judged as less suitable for a high-status leadership position when masculine forms were used in comparison to paired forms (Horvath and Sczesny 2015 ).

To counter the negative effects of masculine generics, many languages have introduced gender-fair alternatives to masculine generics throughout the late twentieth century. These initiatives have focused on creating either paired forms that include references to both women and men (called feminization because the feminine form is added) or gender-neutral forms (called neutralization because gender information is reduced; Sczesny et al. 2016 ). The most common way of pairing gendered pronoun forms is “he or she” (Willis and Jozkowski 2017 ). Gendered pronouns can also be paired as “he/she,” “s/he,” “he (she),” or they can be alternated throughout a text. Critiques of paired pronoun forms include awkwardness in use, that constructions like “s/he” cannot be said out loud, and that there are no comparable grammatical case forms, such as “his or hers” (Madson and Hessling 1999 ). Even organizations that deter the generic use of “he,” such as the American Psychological Association, discourage the repeated use of paired forms stating that “the repetition can become tiresome” and that forms such as he/she or (s)he are “awkward and distracting” (American Psychological Association 2009 , p. 74).

Paired forms also suffer from an androcentric effect called “male firstness” (Willis and Jozkowski 2017 ) because “he or she” is more common than “she or he.” Male firstness has also been documented for personal names (Hegarty et al. 2011 ) and in scientific articles that present gender differences (Hegarty and Buechel 2006 ; Willis and Jozkowski 2017 ). In addition, paired forms emphasize gender as a dichotomy by explicitly denoting gender as constituting the binary categories woman (she) or man (he), excluding individuals with non-binary gender identities (Ansara and Hegarty 2016 ; Hyde et al. 2018 ). Hen is used as both a pronoun to refer to individuals with non-binary gender identities or as generic form (SAOL 2014 ). In this way, gender-neutral pronouns are different from paired language reforms because they make non-binary identities visible in language and decrease the dichotomous perceptions of gender (Wayne 2005 ).

The Introduction of Hen

The introduction of hen generated a heated debate in 2011 (Bäck et al. 2015 , 2018 ; Lindqvist et al. 2016 ; Gustafsson Sendén et al. 2015 ), despite Sweden being an egalitarian country with a history of adopting feminist values and language reforms (Milles 2011 ). Past studies have shown that egalitarianism is related to a more positive opinion of gender-fair language (Formanowicz et al. 2015 ) and a greater use of gender-fair language (Hodel et al. 2017 ). However, during the debate in Sweden, the response was mostly negative. In a study documenting the attitudes in a representative sample collected in 2014 in Sweden, 55% of the participants expressed negative attitudes toward hen whereas only 14% were positive (Bäck et al. 2018 ).

The present study focuses on the contents of arguments that Swedish people use against gender-neutral pronouns. To this aim, we use the categories of arguments against gender-fair language established by Blaubergs ( 1980 ) and Parks and Roberton ( 1998 ) to investigate whether their taxonomies are also valid for gender-fair language reforms that introduce gender-neutral pronouns (neutralization in contrast to feminization) in a different time and cultural context. If the arguments fit past taxonomies, this continuity might indicate that people are more averse to gender-fair language change than to the content of the reforms themselves.

Participants and Procedure

In the present study, arguments against hen were the focus. Therefore, the sample included participants who were familiar with hen and expressed at least one argument against using hen . First, participants read a definition of hen : “ Hen could be used when it is not necessary to specify a gender, for example to replace ‘he/she,’ or for individuals that don’t want to categorize themselves as she or he.” Subsequently, they described in a free-text response why they did or did not want to use hen . Participants ( n  = 168 Swedish speaking; M age  = 30.18, SD  = 12.08, range = 18–72) provided 208 arguments against using hen . Most participants (88.7%, n  = 149) provided one argument, whereas a minority (11.3%, n  = 19) provided multiple critical arguments in their response. The analyses focus on the 208 arguments rather than participants.

Participants were recruited on the university campus of a large university in Sweden in 2014 (paper-and-pencil questionnaire) and through social media and other online platforms in 2015 (online survey). They completed the study without compensation. Participants indicated their gender in a free-text response to avoid normative gender categorizations (Ansara and Hegarty 2014 ; Lindqvist et al. 2019b ), with 54.2% ( n  = 91) indicating woman; 40.5% ( n  = 68), man; and 5.4% ( n  = 9) not responding.

The study was completed in accordance with national guidelines on ethical research (Swedish Research Council 2017 ). In accordance with these guidelines, participants were informed about their voluntary and anonymous contribution and their possibility to quit the survey at any point without giving any reasons for quitting. They were also informed that results are presented on aggregated levels with no possibility to extract personal information. Next, participants gave their informed consent and were forwarded to the questionnaire. After answering the questionnaire, participants actively submitted their responses. A formal ethical approval was not mandatory for this type of research because it did not include any biodata nor did it intend to affect the participants physically or psychologically. It also did not involve any handling of sensitive data as described in the Swedish data protection law.

The presentation of the coding procedure and results follow guidelines outlined by Chatfield ( 2018 ) for publication of qualitative research in Sex Roles . To examine the content of the criticism of the gender-neutral pronoun hen in Sweden, we used a coding scheme based on Blaubergs ( 1980 ) and Parks and Roberton ( 1998 ). The initial coding scheme included 12 categories of arguments against gender-fair language. One category was excluded (Lack of Understanding) because it contained participants’ judgments of why others are critical of gender-fair language, which was not the focus of the present study. This initial coding scheme is reported in the online supplement.

The 208 negative arguments were coded through thematic analyses (Braun and Clarke 2006 ). The approach to the thematic analyses was both deductive and inductive. The deductive approach involved coding the arguments into the original categories, whereas the inductive approach involved the categorization of the arguments that did not fit into the original categories. First, two of the authors separately coded the arguments into the 11 original categories. The inter-coder reliability for coding into the original categories was indexed with Krippendorff’s alpha (Hayes and Krippendorff 2007 ) and was .89 for all categories taken together (range = .57–1). The average agreement between coders for coding arguments into the separate original categories ranged from 33.33% (this category consisted of only 3 arguments) to 100% ( M agreement  = 80.34%, SD  = 23.4). The 15 arguments disagreed upon were categorized after joint discussion. This resulted in 45.7% ( n  = 95) of the arguments being placed in the original categories.

Second, the same two authors jointly subjected the arguments that were partly matched to original categories (35.1%, n  = 73) to a second round of analysis, in accordance with how Parks and Roberton ( 1998 ) modified Blaubergs’ ( 1980 ) taxonomy. The goal was to decide whether these arguments could be included in the original categories if any of the category labels and category definitions were modified. The outcome from this procedure led to the inclusion of all arguments in modified original categories.

Third, the arguments that did not match any of the 11 original categories (19.2%, n  = 40) were subjected to an inductive thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006 ) by the same two authors. This led to the creation of two new categories and an updated coding scheme. The titles and definitions of the new categories were based on the explicit content of the comments grouped into this category. Subsequently, a third author coded all the arguments into the final coding scheme with 13 categories. In the third round of analyses, the Krippendorff’s alpha for the agreement between the third rater and the first two raters for the categorization of all comments was .98. The average agreement between coders for coding arguments into each of the original categories ranged from 66.67% to 100% ( M agreement  = 94.88%, SD  = 11.08). The four arguments disagreed upon were categorized after joint discussion.

Finally, when all the comments were categorized, we used an inductive thematic analysis to organize the categories according to their latent content. To establish the themes, we went beyond the explicit content of the categories and searched for underlying ideas, assumptions, and ideologies that shaped the semantic content of the data (Braun and Clarke 2006 ). All authors were involved in this inductive process.

The coding of the 208 negative arguments against hen into the categories showed that a majority of the arguments ( n  = 160, 76.9%) fit the categories in the original taxonomies from past reforms. Two original categories were modified: Sexism Is Acceptable was modified into Sexism and Cisgenderism Are Acceptable and Change Is too Difficult into Change Is Too Difficult or Unnecessary. About a fifth of the arguments (19.7%, n  = 41) were coded into two new categories: Gender Identification Is Important (13.0%, n  = 27) and Distractor in Communication (6.3%, n  = 13). Two categories from the original taxonomy did not occur in this sample: Cross-Cultural and Historical Authenticity.

The inductive analyses of the latent content of the categories resulted in four dimensions of criticism of gender-fair language: (a) Defending the Linguistic Status Quo (39.4% of arguments, n  = 82), (b) Sexism and Cisgenderism (27.4%, n  = 57), (c) Diminishing the Issue and Its Proponents (26.9%, n  = 56), and (d) Distractor in Communication (6.3%, n  = 13). The dimensions and their underlying categories are presented in Table 1 with percentages and examples.

Defending the Linguistic Status Quo

The first dimension captures a variety of categories that justify the current linguistic norm and the preference to keep the current linguistic system unchanged. Over a third of the arguments (39.4%, n  = 82) fit into this dimension. This dimension included four categories: (a) Change Is Too Difficult or Unnecessary, (b) Appeal to Authority, (c) Word Etymology, and (d) Tradition. Change Is Too Difficult was modified to include the argument that change is not necessary. Comments about hen being unnecessary were very common, for example: “I don’t see the need for it” and “We already have a neutral word for gender non-specified situations: ‘person’.” Responses about the difficulty of use included: “I cannot get used to it” and “I have still not grown accustomed to the word and it is awkward to say.” Of the arguments, 33.7% ( n  = 70) fit into this category.

The Appeal to Authority (3.8%, n  = 8) and the Word Etymology (1.0%, n  = 2) categories rarely occurred and contained a variety of references to authorities. Some participants stated that they did not want to use hen because they found hen ’s definition unclear or because they thought it lacked proper case forms. In the two comments in the Word Etymology category, it was argued that a generic use of hen is not proper because hen was introduced as a pronoun for people with trans or non-binary gender identities. The ambiguity in these arguments is that they are negative toward the generic use of hen , but not negative toward using hen for people who use it as their personal pronoun. Like the Change Is Too Difficult or Unnecessary category, the two arguments that fit into the Tradition category (1.0%, n  = 2) showed a preference for the status quo. However, instead of referring to authorities, they used the tradition of using certain gendered words as justification for using them. For example, one argument stated that Santa Claus had always been a “he” and that should not change.

Sexism and Cisgenderism

The second dimension represents beliefs about gender and the implications of the language reform. The term “cisgenderism” was added to sexism and refers to the ideology that condemns people’s own designations of their genders and bodies (Ansara and Hegarty 2014 ). A fourth (27.4%, n  = 57) of the arguments fit this dimension which comprises the modified category Sexist and Cisgenderist Language Is Acceptable (14.4%, n  = 30) and the new category Gender Identification Is Important (13.0%, n  = 27). In past taxonomies, criticism of gender-fair language included classical and hostile forms of sexism (e.g., “men are superior to women”). These forms of sexism were absent in the current sample, but we found similar hostility against people with non-binary identities. Trans identities were explicitly or implicitly neglected in the content of the comments (“I don’t see that a few hurt people should change language”). In other types of comments, the existence of people outside the binary system was neglected. According to these comments, pronouns for individuals with non-binary gender identities are unnecessary because there are no individuals who are not either a woman or a man: “I don’t see the need for a gender-neutral pronoun, because biologically you are either a man or a woman” or “Girls are girls, boys are boys.” Instead of an acceptance of masculine dominance being expressed in language, these comments express an acceptance of binary gendering in language. Therefore, we expanded the category Sexist Language Is Acceptable to Sexist and Cisgenderist Language Is Acceptable.

The new category Gender Identification Is Important emerged from comments focusing on the importance to use gender labels in communication about others and concerns that gender-neutral pronouns lead to depersonalization. This category also comprises dichotomous beliefs about gender. However, instead of explicitly denying the existence of individuals with non-binary identities, this category contains arguments about gendered information being important in communication (“I think one’s gender is part of who we are, and that is why I like saying he or she” and “one often wants to know someone’s gender”). In this way, the arguments implicitly neglect non-binary gender identities.

Diminishing the Issue and its Proponents

The third dimension includes disparaging reactions to both gender-fair language and the people advocating for its use. A fourth of the arguments (26.9%, n  = 56) fit this dimension. This dimension comprises four original categories: (a) Hostility and Ridicule (12.5%, n  = 26), (b) Freedom of Speech/Unjustified Coercion (9.6%, n  = 20), (c) Sexist Language Is a Trivial Concern (3.8%, n  = 8), and (d) Sexist Language Is Not Sexist (1.0%, n  = 2). Common to these categories is the opinion that sexist language is a non-issue and that proponents of gender-fair language miss the larger picture of gender equality. The largest category within this dimension, Hostility and Ridicule, contains comments that undermine linguistic change by being hostile or diminishing: “It is totally ridiculous to use that word,” “It reminds me of a hen [referring to the English meaning of the word hen],” “It’s frivolous,” and “Seriously, I get irritated.” Clearly negative words were common in this category (e.g., ugly, nonsense, annoying, stupid, fussy).

Most of the ridiculing arguments in the first category target the word itself rather than the people using it. However, in other categories the arguments also target proponents of hen . For example, the Freedom of Speech/Unjustified Coercion category included criticism that focused on proponents of the linguistic change threatening or coercing others to change their linguistic habits. Examples of typical arguments are: “Sweden has ended up as a self-limiting totalitarian state where political correctness hides everything in society” and “It disturbs me that some abuse it, or even become aggressive if you decide to distinguish between the genders.” Some criticism was milder but suggests that gender equality had gone too far. An example of such a comment is: “I can feel [gender equality] has gone a bit too far if, for example, we will have to divide toilets for he, she and hen .”

The third category Sexist Language Is a Trivial Concern included arguments that express the idea that a word does not make a difference or that there are other more important steps to reach gender equality. The fourth category Sexist Language Is Not Sexist similarly included arguments that denied that sexist language negatively affects anyone. An example of such a comment is: “[Using gendered language] does not necessarily mean that certain characteristics or attributes are forced on a person.”

Distractor in Communication

The fourth dimension focused on participants’ concern that the use of hen may lead to a less effective communication or even reprimands because hen is seen as a political statement. This theme does not concern the content or the implications of hen , but rather the reactions from others to the new word. In total, 6.3% of the arguments ( n =  13) fit into this dimension. For example, participants mentioned that hen could be distracting: “The reader will get stuck on the use of the word hen and it takes focus from the rest of what one is trying to say/write.” This category is similar to comments that diminish the issue and its proponents because it contains a “shoot the messenger” attitude. The difference is that the participants express concern that they themselves might become the target of hostility and ridicule when using hen because hen is perceived as a political statement: “I don’t want to use it at work during for example a presentation because there are many that have strong opinions about the word and I don’t want it to take the attention from the rest of the presentation.”

The present study investigated whether criticism against gender-neutral pronouns in Sweden fit into taxonomies based on criticism of other gender-fair language reforms that aimed to make women more visible in English language contexts. The results showed that a majority of the arguments against the use of the Swedish gender-neutral pronoun hen could be categorized into existing taxonomies of criticism of gender-fair language (Blaubergs 1980 ; Parks and Roberton 1998 ). This similarity is noteworthy because the hen- reform differs from the reforms central in past studies in that hen removes gender information instead of adding paired gendered forms. This finding indicates that despite the differences in context and intentions of the gender-fair linguistic reforms, the contents of criticisms largely remain the same.

In addition to validating the work by Blaubergs ( 1980 ) and Parks and Roberton ( 1998 ), we established four dimensions of beliefs on gender and language that underlie criticism of gender-fair language reforms. The broadest dimension included arguments that defend the linguistic status quo. This theme reflects people’s tendency to be generally negative about anything that is new and to prefer to keep things the way they are (Bäck 2013 ; Bäck and Lindholm 2014 ; Jost et al. 2004 ). This phenomenon is called status quo bias (Jost et al. 2004 ; Samuelson and Zeckenhauser 1988 ). For instance, studies have shown that people preferred a candy that ostensibly has been sold a long time as compared to if it was presented as a relatively new candy (Eidelman et al. 2010 ). There is a similar resistance toward changes in language, where studies have found that new words and expressions are described as “ugly” or examples of “bad language” (Andersson 2001 ; Kotsinas 1996 ).

Some of the participants in the current study did not oppose the use of gender-neutral expressions per se (e.g., they were positive toward using terms like “the person”), but specifically opposed the use of hen . This indicates that these participants prefer existing words and may therefore overestimate whether words such as “the person” evoke gender-neutral or gender-balanced mental representations. In fact, such supposedly neutral words often carry a male bias (Bailey and LaFrance 2017 ). For example, in a recruitment situation, the supposedly neutral “the applicant” was found to have a male bias, whereas hen did not (Lindqvist et al. 2019 ). It is possible that people who express criticism with this underlying theme may be more prone to change their attitudes when hen loses its novelty or when made aware of the shortcomings of already existing neutral terms.

The dimension Diminishing the Issue and Its Proponents included the strongest negative attitudes and affect toward gender-fair language. Criticism in this dimension targets both the reform and the people advocating for the gender-fair language. The hostile comments prevalent in our sample reflect the heated public debate in the media and in comments on social media when hen was introduced in 2011 (Wojahn 2015 ). Criticism within this category may be so strong because it is rooted in ideology; what is important in terms of social justice, and what means should be used to attain social justice. For example, participants may perceive gender-fair language initiatives as an infringement on their freedom of speech. They may perceive initiatives like hen as prescriptive and a form of language policing. They may also relate hen to other social justice initiatives that they may oppose, such as initiatives to make public spaces such as toilets gender-neutral or non-binary inclusive or campaigns for non-binary people to self-determine their gender in official documentation.

Gender-neutral language may also lead to participants experiencing their own social identities to be threatened. For example, past research has shown that people with a strong female or male gender identity are more negative toward hen and use hen less often (Gustafsson Sendén et al. 2015 ). Challenging social gender identities by introducing a gender-neutral pronoun may be difficult for people and lead to harsh reactions (Morgenroth and Ryan 2018 ). Arguments that diminish the issue and its proponents may therefore be based on a person’s perceived threat of their own social identity.

The theme Sexism and Cisgenderism might also be rooted in ideology. This theme contained the arguments that gender-neutral pronouns are unnecessary because there are only two genders, that gendered language is important for one’s identity, and that knowing someone’s gender is necessary in communication. The content of this theme aligns with findings of prejudice against transgender individuals (Tee and Hegarty 2006 ). One predictor for prejudice against trans individuals, including individuals with non-binary gender identities, is the idea that sex and gender are determined by genes, hormones, and genitals (Tee and Hegarty 2006 ). Sex/gender is seen as unchangeable and binary, and transgender or intersex conditions are seen as abnormal. Classical forms of sexism that typically target women are not as relevant when proposing gender-neutral pronouns because they do not promote the visibility of women in language. However, it is possible that people who hold classical sexist beliefs also have essentialist beliefs on cisgenderism, similar in the way prejudice toward one minority group tends to spill over to other groups (e.g., generalized prejudice; Akrami et al. 2011 ). Our study suggests that criticism against gender-fair language may be rooted not just in the perception of gender roles in society, but also in cisgenderism. Whether cisgenderist motivations for being critical of gender-fair language are easy to change should be investigated in future studies.

The dimension Distractor in Communication concerns the motivation to not use gender-fair language because it is distracting. Arguments in this dimension addressed a motivation that has not been part of previous taxonomies of criticism—namely that participants are not necessarily critical of gender-fair language themselves, but instead are concerned about whether hen disrupts their communication with others and about whether other people may judge them when using hen . In a similar way, the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines for authors support gender-fair language, but also recommend against using paired pronouns as they are “awkward and distracting” (pp. 74, APA 2009 ). Linguistic norms like guidelines and policies are important motivators for using gender-fair language (Koeser and Sczesny 2014 ). It is important that such guidelines are based on empirical evidence, and future research should investigate whether paired or gender-neutral pronoun forms truly are distracting in communication. It is also possible that the use of a word that is initially perceived as distracting or ideologically charged might normalize over time, as has been shown for paired masculine and feminine professional titles (Horvath et al. 2016 ).

Limitations and Future Research Directions

Many participants were students, who in general are more progressive and positive to hen as compared to the wider Swedish population (Bäck et al. 2018 ). The distribution of comments over the different categories and the themes may thus differ from the general population. A follow-up study could make use of a representative population to validate the results found in our study.

Future studies should investigate whether variation between individuals predict the type of critical arguments that are used. For example, high levels of sexism may predict hostile and sexist arguments, whereas a preference for the status quo may predict arguments concerning the preservation of the current language and already available words. Analyzing the dimensions of arguments over time may also reveal whether arguments with ideological motivations persevere longer than other arguments rooted in other motivations.

Practice Implications

Implementors of gender-fair language initiatives should be aware of the arguments that exist against gender-fair language to address resistance appropriately. Some arguments are based on ideological beliefs and values, which might be harder to change because they are associated with people’s social identities. Other arguments are based on the preference for status quo or a concern about making a political statement by using gender-fair language; these objections might change if the word becomes more common. Each of these underlying motivations may be addressed in different ways, and some may be more challenging to address than others. To facilitate the acceptance of new gender-fair language initiatives, it is important to provide knowledge about gender bias in language (Koeser and Sczesny 2014 ) and knowledge about variations in biological sex and gender identities (Hyde et al. 2018 ), as well as give people the chance to get used to the word so it loses its novelty. Guidelines for gender-fair languages for authorities and the media will help make the proposed word more familiar.

The introduction of the gender-neutral pronoun hen in the Swedish language has received a lot of criticism. In comparison to past gender-fair language reforms that made women more salient, this reform attempts to make people with non-binary identities visible in pronoun use and decreases dichotomous perceptions of gender. At large, critical arguments against using hen were similar to arguments against using paired forms. Four dimensions captured universal structures of hesitance to gender-fair language: (a) defending the linguistic status quo, (b) diminishing the issue and its proponents, (c) sexism and cisgenderism, and (d) gender-fair language being distracting in communication.

Akrami, N., Ekehammar, B., & Bergh, R. (2011). Generalized prejudice: Common and specific components. Psychological Science, 22 (1), 57–59. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610390384 .

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Google Scholar  

Andersson, L. G. (2001). Fult språk: Svordomar, dialekter och annat ont [Ugly language: Profanities, dialects, and other evils] . Stockholm: Carlsson.

Ansara, Y. G., & Hegarty, P. (2014). Methodologies of misgendering: Recommendations for reducing cisgenderism in psychological research. Feminism & Psychology, 24 (2), 259–270. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959353514526217 .

Article   Google Scholar  

Ansara, Y. G., & Hegarty, P. (2016). Misgendering in English language contexts: Applying non-cisgenderist methods to feminist research. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 7 (2), 160–177. https://doi.org/10.5172/mra.2013.7.2.160 .

Bäck, E. A. (2013). Position toward the status quo: Explaining differences in intergroup perceptions between left- and right-wing affiliates. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43 , 2073–2082. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12160 .

Bäck, E. A., & Lindholm, T. (2014). Defending or challenging the status quo: Position effects on biased intergroup perceptions. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2 (1), 77–97. https://doi.org/10.5964/jspp.v2i1.158 .

Bäck, E. A., Lindqvist, A., & Gustafsson Sendén, M. (2015). Hen can do it! Effects of using a gender-neutral pronoun in recruitment. In J. Magnusson, K. Milles, & Z. Nikolaidou (Eds.), Könskonstruktioner och Språkförändringar: En rapport från den åttonde nordiska konferensen om språk och kön [Gender constructions and language change: Report from the 8th Nordic Conference on Language and Gender] (pp. 71–90). Flemingsberg, Sweden: Södertörn University.

Bäck, E. A., Lindqvist, A., & Gustafsson Sendén, M. (2018). Hen. Bakgrund, attityder och användande [Hen: Background, attitudes and use] (Vol. 8). Lund: Lund University. Retrieved from https://www.psy.lu.se/sites/psy.lu.se/files/plr_1801.pdf .

Bailey, A. H., & LaFrance, M. (2017). Who counts as human? Antecedents to androcentric behavior. Sex Roles, 76 (11–12), 682–693. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0648-4 .

Bem, S. L., & Bem, D. J. (1973). Does sex-biased job advertising “aid and abet” sex discrimination? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 3 (1), 6–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1973.tb01290.x .

Blaubergs, M. S. (1980). An analysis of classic arguments against changing sexist language. Women’s Studies International Quarterly, 3 (2–3), 135–147. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0148-0685(80)92071-0 .

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (3), 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa .

Braun, F., Sczesny, S., & Stahlberg, D. (2005). Cognitive effects of masculine generics in German: An overview of empirical findings. Communications, 30 (1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1515/comm.2005.30.1.1 .

Chatfield, S. (2018). Considerations in qualitative research reporting: A guide for authors preparing articles for Sex Roles. Sex Roles, 79 (3–4), 125–135. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0930-8 .

Eidelman, S., Pattershall, J., & Crandall, C. S. (2010). Longer is better. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (6), 993–998. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.008 .

Formanowicz, M., Cisłak, A., Horvath, L. K., & Sczesny, S. (2015). Capturing socially motivated linguistic change: How the use of gender-fair language affects support for social initiatives in Austria and Poland. Frontiers in Psychology, 6 , 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01617 .

Gastil, J. (1990). Generic pronouns and sexist language: The oxymoronic character of masculine generics. Sex Roles, 23 (11–12), 629–643. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00289252 .

Gustafsson Sendén, M., Bäck, E. A., & Lindqvist, A. (2015). Introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in a natural gender language: The influence of time on attitudes and behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 6 , 893. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00893 .

Article   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Hayes, A. F., & Krippendorff, K. (2007). Answering the call for a standard reliability measure for coding data. Communication Methods and Measures, 1 (1), 77–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/19312450709336664 .

Hegarty, P., & Buechel, C. (2006). Androcentric reporting of gender differences in APA journals: 1965–2004. Review of General Psychology, 10 (4), 377–389. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.377 .

Hegarty, P., Watson, N., Fletcher, L., & McQueen, G. (2011). When gentlemen are first and ladies are last: Effects of gender stereotypes on the order of romantic partners’ names. The British Journal of Social Psychology, 50 , 21–35. https://doi.org/10.1348/014466610X486347 .

Hodel, L., Formanowicz, M., Sczesny, S., Valdrová, J., & Von Stockhausen, L. (2017). Gender-fair language in job advertisements: A cross-linguistic and cross-cultural analysis. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48 (3), 384–401. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022116688085 .

Horvath, L. K., & Sczesny, S. (2015). Reducing women’s lack of fit with leadership positions? Effects of the wording of job advertisements. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25 (2), 316–328. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359432X.2015.1067611 .

Horvath, L. K., Merkel, E. F., Maass, A., & Sczesny, S. (2016). Does gender-fair language pay off? The social perception of professions from a cross-linguistic perspective. Frontiers in Psychology, 6 , 1–12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02018 .

Hyde, J. S., Bigler, R. S., Joel, D., Tate, C. C., & van Anders, S. M. (2018). The future of sex and gender in psychology: Five challenges to the gender binary. American Psychologist, 74 , 171–193. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000307 .

Jost, J. T., Banaji, M. B., & Nosek, B. A. (2004). A decade of system justification theory: Accumulated evidence of conscious and unconscious bolstering of the status quo. Political Psychology, 25 (6), 881–919. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.85.5.823 .

Koeser, S., & Sczesny, S. (2014). Promoting gender-fair language: The impact of arguments on language use, attitudes, and cognition. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33 (5), 548–560. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X14541280 .

Kotsinas, U. B. (1996). Ungdomsspråk [Youth Language] . Uppsala: Hallgren & Fallgren.

Lindqvist, A., Bäck, E. A., & Gustafsson Senden, M. (2016). Vem tycker om hen? [Who likes hen?]. Språk och Stil, 26 , 101–129.

Lindqvist, A., Renström, E. A., & Gustafsson Sendén, M. (2019a). Reducing a male bias in language? Establishing the efficiency of three different gender-fair language strategies. Sex Roles, 81 , 109–117. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0974-9 .

Lindqvist, A., Gustafsson Sendén, M., & Renström, E. A. (2019b). What Is Gender, Anyway: A Review of the Options for Operationalizing Gender Psychology and sexuality, in press.

Madson, L., & Hessling, R. M. (1999). Does alternating between masculine and feminine pronouns eliminate perceived gender bias in text? Sex Roles, 41 (7/8), 559–575. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018895321444 .

Milles, K. (2011). Feminist language planning in Sweden. Current Issues in Language Planning, 12 (1), 21–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2011.541388 .

Milles, K. (2013). En öppning i en sluten ordklass? Den nya användningen av pronomenet hen [An opening in a closed word class? The new use of the pronoun hen]. Språk Och Stil, 23 (1), 107–140.

Morgenroth, T., & Ryan, M. K. (2018). Gender trouble in social psychology: How can Butler’s work inform experimental social psychologists’ conceptualization of gender? Frontiers in Psychology, 9 , 1320. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01320 .

Moulton, J., Robinson, G. M., & Elias, C. (1978). Sex bias in language use: “Neutral” pronouns that aren’t. American Psychologist, 33 (11), 1032–1036. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.33.11.1032 .

Parks, J. B., & Roberton, M. A. (1998). Contemporary arguments against nonsexist language: Blaubergs (1980) revisited. Sex Roles, 39 (5/6), 445–461. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018827227128 .

Samuelson, W., & Zeckenhauser, R. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 1 (1), 7–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00055564 .

SAOL. (2014). Svenska Akademins Ordlista [Dictionary of Swedish Language] . Stockholm: Nordstedts.

Sczesny, S., Formanowicz, M., & Moser, F. (2016). Can gender-fair language reduce gender stereotyping and discrimination? Frontiers in Psychology, 7 , 1–11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025 .

Stahlberg, D., Sczesny, S., & Braun, F. (2001). Name your favorite musician: Effects of masculine generics and of their alternatives in German. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 20 (4), 464–469. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X01020004004 .

Stout, J. G., & Dasgupta, N. (2011). When he doesn’t mean you: Gender-exclusive language as ostracism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36 (6), 767–769. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167211406434 .

Swedish Research Council. (2017). Good research practice . Retrieved from https://www.vr.se/download/18.5639980c162791bbfe697882/1529480529472/Good-Research-Practice_VR_2017.pdf

Tee, N., & Hegarty, P. (2006). Predicting opposition to the civil rights of trans persons in the United Kingdom. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 16 (1), 70–80. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.851 .

Wayne, L. (2005). Neutral pronouns: A modest proposal whose time has come. Canadian Woman Studies, 24 (2/3), 85–91.

Willis, M., & Jozkowski, K. N. (2017). Ladies first? Not so fast: Linguistic sexism in peer-reviewed research. Journal of Sex Research, 55 (2), 137–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1346058 .

Wojahn, D. (2015). Språkaktivism: Diskussioner om feministiska språkförändringar i Sverige från 1960-talet till 2015 [Language activism: Discussions about feminist language changes in Sweden from the 1960s until 2015] (Doctoral dissertation). Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.

Download references

Acknowledgements

Open access funding provided by Stockholm University.

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Frescati Hagväg 14, 106 91, Stockholm, Sweden

Hellen Petronella Vergoossen, Anna Lindqvist & Marie Gustafsson Sendén

Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

Emma Aurora Renström

Department of Psychology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

Anna Lindqvist

Department of Social Sciences, Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden

Marie Gustafsson Sendén

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hellen Petronella Vergoossen .

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest.

This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council (grant 2014-1150). The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards. No animals were involved in the research.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s note.

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic Supplementary Material

(DOCX 16 kb)

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Vergoossen, H.P., Renström, E.A., Lindqvist, A. et al. Four Dimensions of Criticism Against Gender-Fair Language. Sex Roles 83 , 328–337 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01108-x

Download citation

Published : 06 January 2020

Issue Date : September 2020

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01108-x

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Gender identity
  • Gender-fair language
  • Gender-inclusive language
  • Gender-neutral pronouns
  • Language reforms
  • Find a journal
  • Publish with us
  • Track your research

Logo

  • By Alexei Malgavko

Omsk

Name:  Alexei Malgavko

Age:  30

Profession: Photographer

City:  Omsk Oblast

How long have you been doing photography? What style or genre most interests you?  I have had photography as a hobby since I was a child, and since 2005 I have worked as a photo journalist. I have to do all sorts of photography, but I am most interested in shooting provincial Russia.

Can you give us a short description of your city? Where is it located? What is it famous for? Omsk oblast is located in Siberia, at the geographic center of Russia. Omsk is a huge city with a population of over a million, but all you ahve to do is drive 50 kilometers and the population density falls of rapidly. The main income source for the megalopolis is the oil processing plan. Since the taiga is nearby, the wood processing industry is also rather big here. Siberia is also known for its severe cold (to minus 40 degrees) and it summer mosquitoes.

What is something about your city that only locals would know? 200 years ago, the [now] world famous writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was sent to Siberian exile in Omsk. Another of Omsk's "calling cards" is the city's hockey team, Avangard. In 2006 the legendary Yaromir Yagr even played for them. Omsk is also famous for its metro, which does not actaully exists. There are stations, even a metro bridge, but no metro cars travel there, because for 20 years now they have been unable to finish the system, though they promise to every year.

Which places or sites are a must for someone to see if they visit your city?  The five lakes and village of Okunevo, the place where, according to legend, lies the "world's navel." Each year on the summer solstices (June 21), representatives of various religions come her to collect its energy. And less religious people come here simply to rest and luxuriate in virginal nature.

There is also Belovodye, a grandiose ice village that is built before New Year's directly in the center of Omsk.

The main sport in Omsk is ice hockey. The former governor of Omsk, region who held office for twenty years, was a devoted fan of Hockey Club Avangard Omsk Region. The team won the Russian Superleague in 2004. Many hockey players who were raised in Omsk play all over the world now. And youngsters play right in the streets, despite the frost.

Photo credit: Alexei Malgavko

Hockey

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver

In Omsk there are many steam-heat and fabric pipes. The city is big and it needs proper heating. The most powerful ones belong to the Oil Plant. A long time ago, the son of famous Russian poet Lev Gumilyov took part in building this plant while serving his exile here. He was born in St. Petersburg. By coincidence, the bulk of the plant's taxes go to the Northern capital of Russia, because the Oil plant is a subsidiary of Gazprom Neft. Money flows away from Omsk while it suffers from the plant's pollution. That's why all the citizens think it's unfair.

Sunlight

Tags: Siberia Omsk winter

Like this post get a weekly email digest + member-only deals, some of our books.

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

Fish: a history of one migration, the little golden calf, life stories: original fiction by russian authors.

Moscow and Muscovites

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

White Magic

White Magic

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over .

Latest Posts

Useful links, our contacts.

Russian Life 73 Main Street, Suite 402 Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955

[email protected]

gender fair language essay

CREEES Professional Resources Forum

Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at The University of Texas at Austin

Study Abroad: Russian Language in Omsk (Dostoevsky Omsk State Uni.)

Deadline for applications: april 15, 2018 and june 10, 2018, brochure – russian language summer school august 2018 brochure – russian language summer school july 2018.

IMAGES

  1. gender-fair language and equal opportunities

    gender fair language essay

  2. Chapter 5 Gender

    gender fair language essay

  3. Language and Gender Example Student Essay (A grade)

    gender fair language essay

  4. (PDF) What is in a Pronoun?: Why Gender-Fair Language Matters

    gender fair language essay

  5. Gender Fair Language: The Nascent Emergence for Gender Equity

    gender fair language essay

  6. GENDER-FAIR PPT.pptx

    gender fair language essay

VIDEO

  1. Gender and Society Chapter 5 Gender fair Language

  2. 10 Gender Specific Terms You Never Knew Existed

  3. GENDER AND LANGUAGE RELATIONS PPT PRESSENTATION

  4. Gender Equality 10 lines essay in English by Smile Please World

COMMENTS

  1. Frontiers

    Gender-fair language (GFL) aims at reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination. Two principle strategies have been employed to make languages gender-fair and to treat women and men symmetrically: neutralization and feminization.

  2. Gender-Inclusive Language

    What is gendered language, and why should you be aware of it? You have probably encountered documents that use masculine nouns and pronouns to refer to subject (s) whose gender is unclear or variable, or to groups that contain people who are not actually men. For example, the U.S. Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal."

  3. What Is Gender-Inclusive Language And Why Does It Matter?

    Efforts to make the English language more gender-equitable have had a long history in the U.S. Important advances were made from the 1960s to the 1980s, when feminist activists used language strategically to highlight women's concerns on a national level.

  4. What's in a pronoun? Why gender-fair language matters

    Linguistic relativity, or the idea that language directs thought, has been shown to operate in multiple contexts. 5, 6 In a 2014 study, investigators demonstrated that objects' grammatical gender strongly predicted whether Spanish/Russian (gendered language) speakers classified objects as feminine or masculine. 7 In other words, their language g...

  5. Introduction to Gender in Language Education

    Introduction to Gender in Language Education Editorial Published: 19 May 2020 Volume 24 , pages 1019-1027, ( 2020 ) Cite this article Download PDF Sexuality & Culture Aims and scope Submit manuscript Handoyo Puji Widodo & Tariq Elyas 10k Accesses 16 Citations 3 Altmetric Explore all metrics Abstract

  6. Promoting Gender-Fair Language: The Impact of Arguments on Language Use

    The present research investigates whether arguments encourage speakers to use and to approve of gender-fair language. We collected and pretested arguments regarding gender-fair language and masculine generics and created four messages which supported either gender-fair usage or masculine generics (strong and weak arguments) as well as two control texts.

  7. (PDF) Just Reading? How Gender-Fair Language Triggers ...

    Elisabeth Kuhn Norwegian University of Science and Technology Sabine Sczesny Universität Bern Abstract and Figures Gender-fair language, that is, referring to men and women with symmetrical...

  8. (PDF) Promoting Gender-Fair Language: The Impact of Arguments on

    Promoting Gender-Fair Language: The Impact of Arguments on Language Use, Attitudes, and Cognitions Authors: Sara Koeser Sabine Sczesny Universität Bern Abstract The present research...

  9. (PDF) Promoting Gender-Fair Language: The Impact of Arguments on

    Keywords gender-fair language, arguments, language use, language attitudes, Elaboration Likelihood Model, German, gender, sexist language, gender-inclusive language, generic masculine Use of gender-fair language is crucial for gender equality because it helps to reduce cognitive and behavioral male biases evoked by exclusively masculine forms ...

  10. Encouraging gender-fair language

    Gender-fair language was proven to be important and make a significant contribution to overcoming gender inequality, e.g. in workplaces. Additionally, brain activity reflects the different status and power conveyed by a gender-unfair or gender-neutral language. This suggests that gender stereotypes are part of the knowledge that the brain ...

  11. Gender Fair Language

    Gender Fair Language Edit The content is sourced from: https://handwiki.org/wiki/Social:Gender_fair_language 0 0 0 Gender fair language (GFL) is language used with the intention of reducing gender bias in one's mental representation, or mental understanding of an idea.

  12. Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination

    Gender-fair language (GFL) aims at reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination. Two principle strategies have been employed to make languages gender-fair and to treat women and men symmetrically: neutralization and feminization.

  13. How Fair is Gender-Fair Language?

    08 February 2024. Research: For some, gender-fair language and writing are indispensable tools for improving the visibility of women in the unconscious and for acting on the sexist biases inherent in our asymmetrical language system. For others, they are dramatic, dangerous and unnecessary additions to our language.

  14. (PDF) Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce Gender Stereotyping and

    Abstract and Figures. Gender-fair language (GFL) aims at reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination. Two principle strategies have been employed to make languages gender-fair and to treat ...

  15. Four Dimensions of Criticism Against Gender-Fair Language

    Feminist scholars have promoted gender-fair language for over half a century. In the 1970s, feminists considered the generic use of masculine pronouns and masculine occupational titles problematic and "both a symptom and a source of fundamental androcentrism" (Braun et al. 2005, p. 3).Empirical studies have shown that masculine generics are androcentric because they more readily evoke ...

  16. Gender Fair Language

    Gender Fair Language As culture changes, so does language. Reflect our changing ideas in your writing with gender fair language! This site provides an overview of the concept, as well as helpful examples for making your writing clear and direct regarding gender.

  17. PDF Gender Fair Language

    Gender-fair language minimizes unnecessary concern about gender in your subject matter, allowing both you and your reader to focus on what people do rather than on which sex they happen to be. For example, the practice of using he and man as generic terms poses a common problem.

  18. PDF Language and Inclusivity: A Qualitative Study on Gender Fair Language

    Gender stereotyping is described by the United Nations as 'the practice of assigning specific attributes, characteristics, or roles to an individual woman or man solely based on her or his involvement in a social group of women or men.'. Language more than often exercises gender stereotyping due to its lack of inclusiveness.

  19. Gender-fair language : a primer

    Interventions in Addressing Gender Issues in the Classroom. C GretchenGaye. Education, Sociology. 2021. Gender equality is the number five agenda of the Sustainable Development Goal, where its primary goal is providing women and girls with equal access to education. Up to this day, students experience…. Expand. PDF.

  20. Omsk

    Omsk oblast is located in Siberia, at the geographic center of Russia. Omsk is a huge city with a population of over a million, but all you ahve to do is drive 50 kilometers and the population density falls of rapidly. The main income source for the megalopolis is the oil processing plan.

  21. The rehousing scam in Omsk

    Six years ago the Omsk regional authorities embarked on a programme aimed at rehousing people living in unsafe and dilapidated accommodation. But the results are far from satisfactory. на ...

  22. Хозяйственные обязанности мужчин и женщин в кочевых обществах

    The article aims to analyze the household responsibilities of men and women in the nomadic societies in Central Eurasia in the 18th - early 20th centuries to use this data for a reconstruction ...

  23. Study Abroad: Russian Language in Omsk (Dostoevsky Omsk State Uni

    In addition to in-class Russian language instruction, students will attend lectures of cultural and academic interest. The social and cultural programs of Summer Schools are designed to help participants gain a valuable overview of Russian culture based on local heritage.