Psychology Magazine

Gender Neutral Pronouns Reduce Bias in Favor of Traditional Gender Roles

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
An interesting study by Tavits and Pérez on Sweden's 2015 incorporation into the Swedish Academy Glossary (which sets norms for Sweden's language) of the gender-neutral pronoun hen. A majority of Swedes now use hen alongside the explicitly gendered hon (she) and han (he) as part of their grammatical toolkit.
Significance
Evidence from 3 survey experiments traces the effects of gender-neutral pronoun use on mass judgments of gender equality and tolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. The results establish that individual use of gender-neutral pronouns reduces the mental salience of males. This shift is associated with people expressing less bias in favor of traditional gender roles and categories, as manifested in more positive attitudes toward women and LGBT individuals in public affairs.
Abstract
To improve gender equality and tolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities, several nations have promoted the use of gender-neutral pronouns and words. Do these linguistic devices actually reduce biases that favor men over women, gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals? The current article explores this question with 3 large-scale experiments in Sweden, which formally incorporated a gender-neutral pronoun into its language alongside established gendered pronouns equivalent to he and she. The evidence shows that compared with masculine pronouns, use of gender-neutral pronouns decreases the mental salience of males. This shift is associated with individuals expressing less bias in favor of traditional gender roles and categories, as reflected in more favorable attitudes toward women and LGBT individuals in public life. Additional analyses reveal similar patterns for feminine pronouns. The influence of both pronouns is more automatic than controlled.

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