Normative Gender Bias in Linguistic Representation

Amanda Klysing recently presented our research at the Gender and Sexuality at Work conference (held online). She was also the winner of the Best Paper Reward at the conference. You can watch the presentation here.

Gender-fair language planning aims to increase linguistic inclusion of underrepresented groups, for example by using paired pronouns (he/she) instead of generic masculine forms (he). However, using paired binary forms might evoke a normative gender bias where words lead to stronger associations to individuals with normative gender expressions than to individuals with non-normative gender expressions. In two online experiments in a simulated recruitment context, we compared the extent that the paired pronouns he/she (Swedish and English), the neo-pronouns ‘hen’ (Swedish) and ‘ze’ (English), and singular they (English), evoked a normative gender bias for Swedish- (N = 227 and 268) and English- (N = 600) speaking participants. The results showed that the paired pronouns he/she evoked a normative gender bias, whereas Swedish hen did not. In contrast to ‘hen’, ‘ze’ and singular they did evoke a normative gender bias. However, among participants familiar with ‘ze’ as a non-binary pronoun, it seemed to reduce a normative gender bias, while familiarity had no effect regarding singular they. These results suggest that neo-pronouns, but not paired pronouns, have the potential to reduce a normative gender bias, but that they should be actively created new words, and well-known to the language users as non-binary pronouns.

APS Virtual Conference 2021

The research group has recently been represented at the virtual convention organized by the Association for Psychological Science:

Talk: Exploring the gender-inclusive pronoun hen and its multiple meanings
Emma A. Renström (presenter), Anna Lindqvist, Marie Gustafsson Sendén

Talk: The Swedish new third-person singular hen is truly gender-inclusive
Anna Lindqvist (presenter), Emma Renström, Amanda Klysing, Marie Gustafsson Sendén

Poster: Intersectional invisibility at the intersection of gender and sexual orientation –  Heterosexual gender prototypes
Amanda Klysing

Poster: The player behind the avatar – A social role theory perspective on perceptions of agency and communion in video games
Hellen Vergoossen, Thekla Morgenroth

International Convention of Psychological Science

Several of us in the project group have been to the large psychological conference International Convention of Psychological Science in Paris to present our research.

Amanda presented the poster Perception of Gender Equality Statements – The Moderating Effect of Gender Identification on Organisation Appeal. Download the poster as pdf.

Hellen presented the poster Swedish Gender-Neutral Pronoun Has No Gender Bias in Reading. Download the poster as pdf.








 represented the project group in a symposium with the talk Gender-neutral
pronouns as promoters of gender equality and diversity
, where she presented the results from our article in Sex Roles. She also presented some new data which indicates that “he/she” is associated with normative women and men, while hen also is associated with individuals with non-normative gender expressions.

The Science of Gender Differences

The 27-28th June was Amanda at the Future Sex conference in Surrey where she presented the results from her master thesis.

The Science of Gender Differences: Gender Essentialism as System Justification

Gender lay theory is a lay person theory which is used as a framework for interpreting information related to gender categorization. The present study investigated how individuals’ gender lay theory is affected by exposure to scientifically framed explanations for gender differences between women and men. It also investigated if gender essentialism functions as a system justifying mechanism by decreasing discrimination attribution, a situational rather than dispositional attribution, in response to a discriminatory situation. The 413 Swedish speaking participants were recruited from web forums and exposed to either a biologically focused (N = 133), or a social-constructivist focused (N = 125) scientifically framed text explaining gender differences, or not exposed to any text (N = 155). Compared to the control group, only exposure to social-constructivist gender discourse impacted gender lay theory by increasing endorsement of a gender as a socially constructed category. The group exposed to the biological text did not differ from the control group, indicating that an essentialist view of gender is the population norm. Discrimination attribution was indirectly affected by exposure to social-constructivist explanations for gender differences through gender lay theory, by increasing endorsement of a social gender lay theory which predicted a higher degree of discrimination attribution. These results point to a connection between exposure to scientific gender discourse, gender essentialism, and a situational attribution in response to a discriminatory situation. This study expands previous research in this field by showing that this connection also applies to an individual rather than general situation of gender discrimination.


Measuring gender in surveys

Anna, Emma and Marie have been at the Gender Diversity in Survey Research conference in Gothenburg, to present our thoughts on how one could/should include the gender variable in social sciences. You can download our conference paper Measuring gender in surveys as a pdf here.

Understanding the Constraints on Women’s Career Decisions

Amanda, Hellen and Marie have been to the conference Context, Identity and Choice: Understanding the Constraints on Women’s Career Decisions in London to present our research about hen
Hellen presented the study Gender-neutral pronouns as promoters of gender equality in the work place.

Abstract: The gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’, has been introduced in Swedish as an addition to the gendered pronouns ‘hon’ [she] and ‘han’ [he]. It can be used in a generic way to refer to someone when not knowing a person’s gender, when gender is irrelevant, or to refer to someone who does not identify with the binary categories. 

Proponents of ‘hen’ have argued that the pronoun can reduce stereotyping in language. In previous research, ‘hen’ has been found to have no male bias when people try to determine whose job application they are reading. Reading a job application from ‘hen’, participants judged the person to be equally likely to be female or male in comparison with “the applicant” or “the candidate”, which were much more frequently imagined to be male (Bäck et al., 2015). 

In this presentation, I present the first eye tracking data on how ‘hen’ affects the way we imagine others when reading about them, and discuss the implications this has for understanding how gender-neutral language may work as a gender-fair language strategy. 

Amanda presented the study The (not so) Changing Man: Dynamic Gender Stereotypes in Sweden. Download the poster as pdf here.

Nordic conference about language and gender

Anna and Emma visited the tenth Nordic conference about language and gender, which this time was held in Akureyri during October 20th-21st. We presented one of our studies where we have shown that henseems to be able to reduce the male bias in our language.

Hen might reduce the male bias in the Swedish language

Abstract. In Swedish, the gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun ‘hen’ has been introduced, existing parallel with the two pronouns representing ‘she’ and ‘he’. One argument against the use of hen, is that there already exist gender neutral words in the Swedish language – hence no new words are needed, it is argued. However, earlier research on assumed gender-neutral words have identified a strong male bias, meaning that so-called neutral words are not perceived as neutral, but associated with masculinity. We examine if ‘hen’ more effectively can reduce the male bias, compared to other grammatically gender-neutral, and historically older, Swedish words. In one social psychological experiment, framed as a recruitment study, the 276 participants read about a job candidate applying for a gender-neutral position (in terms of gender distribution) as real-estate agent. The candidate was referred to as one of four gender-neutral words: ‘the applicant’ (den sökande), ‘the person’ (personen), the new gender-neutral third-person pronoun singular ‘hen’, or the impersonal pronoun singular ‘it’ (den; sometimes used as a gender-neutral personal pronoun). When having read the description, the participants were asked to choose what photo they believed showed the candidate, from four choices (two women and two men). Results show that ‘hen’ was the only condition not affected by a male bias: Most participants associated ‘the applicant’ (68 %), ‘the person’ (71 %) and ‘den’ (63 %) with a masculine gender, compared to the participants reading about ‘hen’ (52%). In sum, ‘hen’ seems to be genuinely gender neutral, compared to other “neutral” paraphrases, and could thereby be used to reduce gender bias in language.