Sex Roles

, 54:275 | Cite as

Alternating Between Masculine and Feminine Pronouns: Does Essay Topic Affect Readers' Perceptions?

  • Laura MadsonEmail author
  • Jennifer Shoda


Authors are routinely advised to avoid using masculine pronouns to refer to both men and women. Some style guides recommend alternating between masculine and feminine pronouns instead. Unfortunately, previous research with gender-neutral text indicates that readers perceive alternating pronouns to be biased in favor of women. We tested readers' perceptions of alternating pronouns in an essay on a traditionally feminine topic, on a traditionally masculine topic, and on a gender-neutral topic. There were four versions of each essay. One version alternated between masculine and feminine pronouns, a second version used paired masculine and feminine pronouns throughout the passage (e.g., ‘he or she’), and the remaining two versions used exclusively masculine pronouns or feminine pronouns. Readers overestimated the frequency of feminine pronouns in alternating text except when they occurred in an essay on a traditionally feminine topic. Readers also thought alternating pronouns were gender-biased and low in overall quality.


sexist language alternating pronouns generic masculine pronouns 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New Mexico State UniversityLas Cruces
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Box 30001/MSC 3452New Mexico State UniversityLas Cruces

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