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Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination?

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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 (policeofficer), 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 scientificallybased policy-making.
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REVIEW
published: 02 February 2016
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025
Edited by:
Manuel Carreiras,
Basque Center on Cognition, Brain
and Language, Spain
Reviewed by:
Simona Mancini,
Basque Center on Cognition, Brain
and Language, Spain
Juan I. Aragones,
Universidad Complutense de Madrid,
Spain
*Correspondence:
Sabine Sczesny
sabine.sczesny@psy.unibe.ch
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Language Sciences,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 31 May 2015
Accepted: 07 January 2016
Published: 02 February 2016
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
Can Gender-Fair Language Reduce
Gender Stereotyping and
Discrimination?
Sabine Sczesny
*
, Magda Formanowicz and Franziska Moser
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)withgender-
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 t o the
reduction of gender stereotyping and discrimination. Our review provides a basis for
future research and for scientifically based policy-making.
Keywords: gender stereotypes, gender -fair language, social discrimination, gender equality, social change
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.
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Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
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).
Tabl e 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
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).
natural gender languages or genderless languages (Hellinger and
Bußmann, 2001).
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)asfemaleor
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
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Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
TABLE 1 | Overview of language types regarding expression of gender and gender asymmetries.
Language type Characteristics Visibility of gender and gender
asymmetries
Preferred strategies for
gender -fair language
(1) Genderless
(e.g., Finnish, Turkish)
Neither personal nouns nor pronouns
differentiated for gender
(e.g., Turkish ö
ˇ
grenci ‘student,’ o ‘she/he’)
Gender expressed only lexically
via attributes (e.g., ‘male/female [student]’)
or lexical gender nouns (e.g., ‘woman,’ ‘father’)
Referential gender often not explicit
(Lexical) gender asymmetries exist, but are
less frequent than in (2) and (3)
Examples:
Turkish adam ‘man’ and ‘human being’
Finnish job titles ending in -mies ‘-man,’
lakimies ‘lawyer,’ lehtimies ‘journalist’
GFL policies generally deemed
unnecessary
(2) Natural gender
(e.g., English, Swedish)
Most personal nouns gender-neutral
(e.g., neighbor, student)
Personal pronouns differentiated for gender
(e.g., Swedish hon/han ‘she/he’)
Referential gender more often explicit than in
(1), but less often than in (3)
Lexical and pr onominal asymmetries exist,
but are less frequent than in (3)
Examples:
English chairman,
the typical student ... he
Neutralization
(3) Grammatical gender
(e.g., French, German)
Every noun has grammatical gender
Gender of personal nouns tends to match gender of
referent (e.g., German Student
masc
/Studentin
fem
‘male/female student’)
Personal pronouns differentiated for gender
(e.g., German sie/er ‘she/he’)
Pronouns and other grammatically dependent words
signal gender of personal noun
(e.g., der
masc
Student
masc
‘the (male) student’
eine
fem
kluge
fem
Studentin
fem
‘a clever (female)
student’)
Referential gender often explicit
All kinds of asymmetries exist and are more
frequent than in (1) and (2)
Examples:
French homme ‘man’ and ‘human being’
German der
masc
typische Student
masc
... er
‘the typical student (masc) ... he’
German alle Wähler
masc
‘all voters’
Feminization + Neutralization
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;Polishnauczyciel/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
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Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
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;forPolish: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
ofnamingwomenaspossiblecandidatesfortheoceof
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)wasused
compared to gender-inclusive (he or she)orgender-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;seealsoBritton and
Lumpkin, 1977; Sunderland, 2011)andtheMacmillan 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.Thisresultedinthecreation
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
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Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
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).Inother
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 pstin
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)andforthat
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)andwith
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
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Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
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. Speakers 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 poseschallenges.Thisisespecially
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
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 6 February 2016 | V olume 7 | Article 25
Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
(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 peoples 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
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 7 February 2016 | V olume 7 | Article 25
Sczesny et al. Gender-Fair Language
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?)orGFL
(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 peoples 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).
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.
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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.
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
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or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 11 February 2016 | V olume 7 | Article 25
... B. Leser*innen) oder geschlechtsneutrale Sprache (z. B. Lesende); wir fassen die letzten beiden Strategien im Folgenden unter der Bezeichnung genderfaire Sprache zusammen [36]. Im Zuge der grundlegenden rechtlichen Anerkennung wurden auch offizielle Empfehlungen und Leitlinien für gendersensible Sprache entwickelt, beispielsweise seitens des Rats für deutsche Rechtschreibung im Jahre 2018 als kurze Empfehlungsliste [34] oder seitens der österreichischen Gleichbehandlungsanwaltschaft im Juni 2021 in Form eines Leitfadens zu geschlechtersensibler Sprache [17]. 2 Diese dienen auch als praktische Handlungsanleitung für eine inklusive und respektvolle Kommunikation, unabhängig von eigener Identität, körperlichen Geschlechtsmerkmalen und Geschlechtsausdruck, gehen dabei aber maßgeblich auf geschriebene und natürliche Sprache ein. ...
... von Menschen verwendeter Sprache auswirkt. Entsprechende Forschung begann in den 1970er Jahren [8] und diverse Studien, die die Verwendung des sogenannten "generischen Maskulinums" untersucht haben, legen nahe, dass diese Form nicht als "generisch" wahrgenommen wird, sondern einen klaren (männliche Assoziationen verstärkenden) Einfluss auf die hervorgerufenen mentalen Repräsentationen hat [4,24,36]. Dies hat sich im übrigen auch in üblichen Ausdrücken innerhalb der Mensch-Computer-Interaktion in der englischen Sprache bestätigt [12]. Entsprechend empfehlen die jeweiligen Forschens 8 sowie Autorens explizit geschlechterinklusive Sprache. ...
Preprint
With the increasing attention non-binary people receive in Western societies, strategies of gender-fair language have started to move away from binary (only female/male) concepts of gender. Nevertheless, hardly any approaches to take these identities into account into machine translation models exist so far. A lack of understanding of the socio-technical implications of such technologies risks further reproducing linguistic mechanisms of oppression and mislabelling. In this paper, we describe the methods and results of a workshop on gender-fair language and language technologies, which was led and organised by ten researchers from TU Wien, St. P\"olten UAS, FH Campus Wien and the University of Vienna and took place in Vienna in autumn 2021. A wide range of interest groups and their representatives were invited to ensure that the topic could be dealt with holistically. Accordingly, we aimed to include translators, machine translation experts and non-binary individuals (as "community experts") on an equal footing. Our analysis shows that gender in machine translation requires a high degree of context sensitivity, that developers of such technologies need to position themselves cautiously in a process still under social negotiation, and that flexible approaches seem most adequate at present. We then illustrate steps that follow from our results for the field of gender-fair language technologies so that technological developments can adequately line up with social advancements. -- [German abstract to be added manually by arXiv admins]
... Kaya mainam pa ring masuri ang kaugnayan ng kasarian sa wikang Filipino lalo't ang gamit ng wika ay nagdudulot ng paghuhulma sa kaisipan at pananaw ng tao upang lubusan niyang mapaunlad ang sarili at ang lipunan (Villines, 2013). Mahalaga din ito dahil sa argumento ng "gender-fair language" na maaaring makatulong sa pagpapalawig ng "gender equality" dahil maaari itong makabawas sa "gender stereotyping and discrimination" (Sczensny, Formanowicz, at Moser, 2016). Lumabas din sa isang pag-aaral na ang mga bansa na gumagamit ng "gendered language" ay mas nakitaan ng mas mababang ebidensya ng "gender equality" kumpara sa mga bansang gumagamit ng "natural gender languages" at "genderless language" (Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012 (Miciano, 2001) Konsepto ng Kasarian (Unger at Crawford, 1992). ...
... Isa sa mahalagang ambag ng nabuong klasipikasyon ang kategorya ng kasariang di namamasid na makatutulong sa pagtuturo ng gramatika para mapatatag ang "gender equality" sa pamamagitan ng paggamit ng "gender-fair language." Ang "gender-fair language" ay maaaring makatulong sa pagbaba ng "gender stereotyping" at diskriminasyon (Sczensny et al., 2016). Kung kaya't sa nabuong klasiplikasyon ay hindi isinama ang kategorya ng walang kasarian sapagkat sa "gender-fair language," mahalaga ang konteksto ng "gender equality" kung kaya't tao ang pokus at di ang mga bagay. ...
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... Indeed, according to English dictionaries, 'he' can be used in a generic sense or when gender is unspecified. Yet, mountains of evidence demonstrate that a sentence such as, 'An engineer must plan before he acts,' strongly brings to mind a male engineer and interferes with the mental accessibility of female engineers (see summary of research in [12]). Replacing 'he' with the gender-neutral 'they' is only slightly effective for increasing the mental accessibility of female professionals because male is the default anyway. ...
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Emerging research points to the power of language to shape how we think of gender in the professional domain. However, there is tension between two opposing strategies for communicating gender: gender marking and gender neutrality. Each strategy has the potential to combat gender bias, but also to reinforce it.
... Gender fair language uses neutralization and feminization to treat men and women equally. Neutralization means to replace the masculine forms with a more neutral form such as replacing policeman with police officer, while feminization means to make female references more visible such as instead of using "the applicant" he or she may be used (Sczesny, Formanowicz, & Moser, 2016). The textbook has only tried to adopt neutralization at a few places and has ignored feminization altogether. ...
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This study considers the use of they and he for generic reference in post-2000 written British English. The analysis is framed by a consideration of language-internal factors, such as syntactic agreement, and language-external factors, which include traditional grammatical prescriptivism and the language reforms resulting from second-wave feminism.
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Linguistic forms which refer to individuals impact mental representations of these individuals: When masculine generics are used, women tend to be cognitively underrepresented, whereas feminine–masculine word pairs are associated with a higher cognitive inclusion of women. The present research investigates whether linguistic forms affect women’s perceived lack of fit with leadership positions, which is particularly pronounced for high-status leadership positions. In a hiring-simulation experiment (N = 363), we tested the effects of different linguistic forms used in German-language job advertisements: (1) masculine forms (e.g., Geschäftsführer, ‘CEO, masc.’); (2) masculine forms with (m/f) (e.g., Geschäftsführer (m/w), ‘CEO, masc. (m/f)’); and (3) word pairs (e.g., Geschäftsführerin/Geschäftsführer, ‘CEO, fem./CEO, masc.’). The job ads announced either a high- or low-status leadership position. Results showed that female applicants were perceived to fit less well with the high-status position than male applicants when either the masculine or the masculine form with (m/f) was used––even though they were perceived to be equally competent. However, female and male applicants were perceived as fitting the high-status leadership position similarly well when word pairs were used.