An overview of positive and negative effects of gender-fair language use

Formanowicz, Magdalena Maria; Cisłak, Aleksandra; Sczesny, Sabine (8 July 2013). An overview of positive and negative effects of gender-fair language use (Unpublished). In: 36th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP). Herzliya, Israel. 08.07.-11.07.2013.

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The basic principle of gender-fair language is symmetric linguistic treatment of women and men.
Depending on the structure of the respective language, two principle strategies can be deployed to make a language gender-fair. In languages with few gender-differentiating forms, such as English, there is a tendency towards neutralization. Here, gender-unmarked forms such as police officer or chairperson are used to substitute the male-biased policeman or chairman. The second strategy, feminization, implies that feminine forms of human nouns are used more frequently and systematically to make female referents visible.Since the 1970s, gender-fair language has been suggested, if not prescribed, for both scientific and official texts and its positive effects are widely documented. The use of gender-fair language increases the cognitive availability of feminine exemplars. Also in an applied context women responding to job advertisements formulated in gender-fair language feel more motivated to apply for the position. However, "side effects" of gender-fair language have also been observed: For instance, women referred to with a gender-fair title (e.g. chairperson) were evaluated as lower in status than women referred to with a masculine generic (e.g. chairman). Similarily, social initiatives framed with the use of gender-fair language were evaluated less-favourably than initiatives using traditional language. This presentation presents the gender-fair language use in the framework of a social dilemma. In order to protect themselves (or initiatives they stand for) from being ascribed incompetence or a lower status, women may avoid feminine forms and thus contribute to the perpetuation of gender-unfair language, which may be detrimental for women in general. Raising awareness for this social concern, and framing it both in terms of group and individual interest can direct the discussion about gender-fair language into a broader perspective of gender equality.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Formanowicz, Magdalena Maria and Sczesny, Sabine


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Irène Gonce-Gyr

Date Deposited:

20 Nov 2014 09:48

Last Modified:

20 Nov 2014 09:48


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