Sex Roles

, Volume 41, Issue 7, pp 559-575

First online:

Does Alternating Between Masculine and Feminine Pronouns Eliminate Perceived Gender Bias in Text?

  • Laura Madson
  • , Robert M. Hessling

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This study explores whether alternating betweenthe pronouns “he” and “she” ina text is an effective way to avoid sexist language.Participants were psychology students at a largemidwestern university and were predominately White and frommiddle-class backgrounds. Students read two versions ofan essay, one that alternated between masculine andfeminine pronouns and one that exclusively used paired, “he or she”-type pronouns. Readersperceived the alternating version to be biased in favorof females and lower in overall quality than the pairedversion. However, the alternating version appeared to be more effective at combating sexism,suggesting an alternating strategy may be desirable forauthors with this goal. If the author is not primarilyconcerned with increasing readers' awareness of gender issues, techniques such as pluralization or thesingular “they” may be moreappropriate.