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.