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.