Alternating Between Masculine and Feminine Pronouns: Does Essay Topic Affect Readers' Perceptions?
- Cite this article as:
- Madson, L. & Shoda, J. Sex Roles (2006) 54: 275. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9344-0
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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.