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ans Dove re HE
the table of contents:
A) my intro
B) "accepted usage" and "grammar rules" say just don't do it.
1) a bit o' "he"story
2) the NCTE
3) the academic style manuals
4) Strunk and White
C) it matters
1) beginner's guide
2) a bunch more studies summarized
A) an introduction
a typical native speaker of American English will utter and hear the
word "he" at least 2 MILLION times in her or his lifetime. if the
typical cognitive effect of such language use is to reinforce gender
bias, even in minute quantities, the net effect per person could be very
significant. if an entire social culture of 260 million persons
re-entrenches those biases as frequently as "he" use does, then it seems
likely that "he" is significant in constructing a male world.
it is still the case that "he" is not a conscious utterance-choice for
the vast majority of persons and it is still not "filtered" consciously
as gender-biasing by the vast majority of persons. the effect is an
unthinking entrenchment of sexism.
each pointing-at "he" likely undoes very much of the damage.
B) "accepted usage" and "the rules" of grammar say "don't do it".
first, gendered pronouns weren't always so. Olde English used
gender-free pronouns, as the Gender-Free Pronouns FAQ point out:
"According to Dennis Baron's Grammar and Gender,
In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal
English epicene pronoun, singular ou : "'Ou will' expresses either he
will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces ou to Middle English
epicene a, used by the fourteenth-century English writer John of
Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary
confirm the use of a for he, she, it, they, and even I.
The dialectal epicene pronoun a is a reduced form of the Old and
Middle English masculine and feminine pronouns he and heo. By the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the masculine and feminine pronouns
had developed to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost
or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine
pronoun she, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to
have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of
the pronoun system...."
the choice to make "he" the pronoun of choice in English dates to a
particular Council of Bishops of 1409 (i that's right- Jarman?) which
decided that women ought to be put in their place. and 600 years later
the olde boys' work is still working.
well, today folks say "don't do it." 2 prominent examples are:
1) the NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English, as
authoritative as it gets regarding the "rules" of "proper" English says:
"Because English has no generic singular--or common-sex--pronoun, we
have used HE, HIS, and HIM in such expressions as "the student . . .
he." When we constantly personify "the judge," "the critic," "the
executive," "the author," and so forth, as male by using the pronoun HE,
we are subtly conditioning ourselves against the idea of a female judge,
critic, executive, or author. There are several alternative approaches
for ending the exclusion of women that results from the pervasive use of
a. Recast into the plural.
Give each student his paper as Give students their papers as
soon as he is finished. soon as they are finished.
b. Reword to eliminate gender problems.
The average student is worried The average student is worried
about his grade. about grades.
c. Replace the masculine pronoun with ONE, YOU, or (sparingly) HE OR
SHE, as appropriate.
If the student was satisfied with A student who was satisfied with
his performance on the pretest, he her or his performance on the
took the post-test. pre-test, he or she took the
d. Alternate male and female examples and expressions. (Be careful not
to confuse the reader.)
Let each student participate. Has Let each student participate.
had a chance to talk? Could he Has she had a chance to talk?
feel left out? Could he feel left out?"
2) the APA (which along with the MLA is the "accepted" standard for
"proper" academic writing) says:
"Suggestions for nonsexist language from the American Psychological
1) Use the plural form. "Students can monitor their progress" can
replace "A student can monitor his progress".
2) Use "you". The sentence, "Suppose that you have difficulty recalling
your social security number" is less sexist than
"Suppose that a person has difficulty recalling his social security
number". The first sentence is also more involving.
3) Use "his or her" or "her or his", as in the sentence, "A student can
monitor her or his progress." The order of these
pronouns may sound akward, but females do not always need to be added as
4) Eliminate the pronoun. "The student is typically the best judge of
the value of extra practice sessions" can replace "The
student is usually the best judge of the value of his extra practice
finally, the high school writing style guide we grew up with, Strunk and
White is a lonely holdout. a nice answer to it comes from an on-line
writing guide for lesbians:
"Strunk and White (1979), in their widely used writing guide, The
Elements of Style, discussed their views on the usage of the pronoun
"he": The use of he as pronoun for nouns embracing both genders is a
simple, practical convention rooted in the beginnings of the English
language. He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances.
The word was unquestionably biased to begin with (the dominant male),
but after hundreds of years it has become seemingly indispensable. It
has no pejorative connotation; it is never incorrect. (p. 60) While this
book is still widely used, research would seem to indicate that it is
becoming dated. Several studies have indicated that the generic use of
male pronouns leads to non-generic cognitions (Gastil, 1990; MacKay,
1980; Martyna, 1980; Moulton, Robinson, & Elias, 1978; Sniezek &
C) it matters.
the discussion of French, Chinese, and other cultures seems to me not
especially well developed. some STUDIES which argue on behalf of Dove's
claims would be nice. the French language, for example, is a morass of
word gendering and the claim that French women are nonetheless liberated
seems to me rash. you say Simone, i say Brigitte Bardot. for English
initially, a quick and dirty beginner's guide to the studies is
mentioned by some random web author:
"Is language a big deal? Should you go out of your way to use nonsexist
language? YES! If you don't already know why, here are only a couple
A lot of studies have demonstrated that terms such as "man" and "he"
produce thoughts about males, not both genders.
In one study, students searched for potential illustrations for the
chapters in a textbook. They were more likely to choose men-only
pictures when the chapter titles were "Social Man" or "Industrial Man",
rather than gender-neutral titles like "Society" or "Industral Life".
(Schneider, J.W., & Hacker, S.L. (1973). Sex role imagery and use of the
generic "man" in introductory texts: A case in the sociology of
sociology of sociology. American Sociologist, 8, 12-18.)
In another study, students were shown different versions of a paragraph
describing careers in psychology. One group saw a masculine generic
version that began, "The psychologist believes in the dignity and worth
of the individual human being. He is committed to increasing man's
understanding of himself and others..." Other groups saw gender-neutral
versions. Then the students were asked to rate the attractiveness of
psychology as a future career for men and for women. Those who had seen
the masculine generic version rated psychology as less attractive for
women than did people who had seen the gender-neutral versions. (Briere,
J., & Lanktree, C. (1983). Sex-role related effects of sex bias in
language. Sex Roles, 9, 625-632.)"
and, finally, for the more academically minded of you, meet a few more
studies courtesy of the SOUTHWIND site:
"John Gastil (1990) conducted an experiment to investigate whether the
generic pronoun "he" would evoke more male images as opposed to female
images. In his study, he had college students read sentences out loud
and then describe their subsequent images. He found that the generic he
evoked a disproportionate number of male images as opposed to female
images. He also found that the use of "he/she" in this experiment also
evoked more male images, although this was only seen in the male
subjects. In a similar study, Martyna (1980) found that students who
read person description using generic masculine pronouns were more
likely to complete a sentence fragment or chose a representative picture
that included a male than students who had read a person description
with gender neutral pronouns.
MacKay (1980) conducted a study in which subjects were asked to recall
the gender of a previously presented target which had been described
using generic masculine or gender neutral pronouns. In the generic
masculine condition, 50% of the subjects reported the target to be
masculine when, in fact, it was not. In contrast, subjects in the gender
neutral condition incorrectly identified the target as masculine only
13% of the time.
Prentice and Miller (1992, as cited in Hardin & Banaji, 1993) did an
elaborate study manipulating college student's pronoun use over the
course of a semester. Half of the students in the study were corrected
in their lab write-ups every time they used masculine generic language,
while the other half were not corrected. At the end of the semester, all
of the students were given a free association sentence completion test.
Among the male subjects, they found no differences in the free
associations between the pronoun corrected and uncorrected groups. But,
among the female subjects, women in the corrected group gave
significantly more female free associations than women in the
uncorrected group. While it is possible that extraneous factors
had an influence on these results, taken at face value, they suggest
broad and pervasive implications of gender biased pronoun use on
cognitions when one takes into account the broad measurement of the
A couple of studies used priming tasks to investigate the cognitive
consequences of gender biased language on long term memory structure.
Gurjanov, Lukatela, Savic, & Turvey (1985) investigated the cognitive
effects of imposed linguistic habits using a lexical decision task.
Utilizing subjects whose native language has gender coded grammar
(Serbo-Croatians), they found faster reaction times or processing of
their task when possessive-pronoun primes were the same gender as the
target nouns. The second study, conducted by Banaji & Hardin (1993, as
cited in Hardin & Banaji, 1993), used a standard semantic priming
task. They presented subjects with primes such as "fireman" and "father"
or "waitress" or "mother". They found that the subjects were faster at
identifying targets such as "he" as opposed to "she" following
presentation of the masculine category primes, and they were faster at
identifying targets such as "she" as opposed to "he" following
presentation of feminine category primes. These studies demonstrate the
possible development of automatic associations in long term memory (LTM)
as a result of learned linguistic structures.
In yet another study examining the effects of the use of generic
masculine pronouns, Khosroshahi (1989) compared college students
classified as either language traditional (LT: consistently used the
generic he in their term papers) or language reformed (LR: used he or
she at least some of the time in their term papers). In his study, he
had the students make drawings to represent their images evoked by
sex-indefinite paragraphs they had read. Outcome measurements indicated
that the men in the study drew more male than female representations
whether they were LT or LR. The women drew more male images if they had
been classified as LT, but drew more female images if they had been
classified as LR. This seems to indicate, as does the Prentice and
Miller study (1992) in which students had their lab write-ups corrected,
that reformed language usage has some effect on cognitions, but not
necessarily for both sexes.
Another group of studies focuses on gender bias in language as a
function of male gender typed noun usage. An excellent example of the
influence of gender typed language on our cognitions was given by
Khosroshahi (1989) in this brief excerpt:
A father and his son are out driving. They have an automobile
accident. The father is killed, and the son is rushed to the hospital
and prepared for operation. The doctor comes in, sees the patient, and
exclaims, "I can't operate on this patient, it's my son!" (p. 505)
While logic should tell us that the doctor must be the son's mother if
the father has been killed, often, individuals automatically
perceive the doctor to be a man. I observed at a recent poster session
involving the use of this story that, in many cases, individuals
perceive the passage as being illogical, or an explanation is sought
involving some scenario of multiple fathers or even, in one case, a
religious-figure "father" (Slavich, 1995, April).
Schneider and Hacker (1973) conducted a study in which they instructed
students to suggest potential photographs and cartoons for specific
topics in a sociology textbook. When the students were presented with
topics such as "Industrial Man", they were more likely to chose all-
male illustrations as examples, as opposed to when they were presented
with topics such as "Industrial life". In a related experiment, Harrison
(1975, as cited in Hardin & Banaji, 1993) found that middle school
students would draw more pictures of men engaged in human activities
when instructed to illustrate "early man" as opposed to "early
Bem and Bem (1973) did some interesting research concerning women's
choice of professions. In their study, they described occupations to
women using either gender neutral or generic masculine terms. Following
this, the women expressed more interest in the occupations that had been
described using gender neutral language than those described using
generic masculine language. Although a study by Gottfredson (1976, as
cited in Hardin & Banaji, 1993) did not replicate these results,
two more recent studies found the same outcome (Briere & Lanktree, 1983;
Stricker, 1981). These studies not only provide support for the effects
of gender biased language on cognition, but they additionally suggest
how these biases can potentially perpetuate the reality of male
domination in professions.
thanks for reading,
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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