Sex bias in language use: “Neutral” pronouns that aren't

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Abstract

Terms such as “his,” “he,” and “man” refer to males but are also used as putative gender-neutral terms to refer to persons of unspecified sex. It is argued that male terms sometimes fail to be gender-neutral and may therefore be a cause of sex bias as well as a vestige of past inequality. In an experiment with 226 male and 264 female college students on the interpretation of pronouns, male terms such as “his,” even in explicitly gender-neutral contexts, caused Ss to think 1st of males significantly more often than did “his or her” appearing in the same place. It is concluded that male terms can fail to be gender-neutral even when it is clear that a person of either sex is referred to, and males may have an advantage in contexts where they are referred to by a putative neutral term. (20 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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