¿Qué? Quoi? Do Languages with Grammatical Gender Promote Sexist Attitudes?

Abstract

Languages such as French and Spanish assign a gendered article to nouns. Three experiments examined whether reading a language with grammatical gender would increase sexist attitudes. Suburban, New York high school students (N = 74, 85, 66) were randomly assigned to complete a survey of sexist attitudes in either English or a language with grammatical gender (French or Spanish). Students in the English condition expressed less sexist attitudes than students in the French or Spanish conditions, and the language used affected females more than males. When the experiment was replicated on bilingual students, similar results were found. Males also expressed more sexist attitudes than females. This study suggests that languages with grammatical gender promote sexist attitudes and have particular impact on females.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Baxter, J., & Kane, E. W. (1995). Dependence and independence: a cross-national analysis of gender inequality and gender attitudes. Gender and Society, 9, 193–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bem, S. L. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. Binghamton: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Berlin, B., & Kay, P. (1969). Basic color terms: Their universality and evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Campbell, B., Schellenberg, E. G., & Senn, C. Y. (1997). Evaluating measures of contemporary sexism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 1, 89–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Capozza, D., Bonaldo, E., & Dimaggio, A. (1982). Problems of identity and social conflict: Research on ethnic groups in Italy. In H. Tajfel (Ed.), Social identity and intergroup relations (pp. 299–344). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. P. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In T. M. Newcomb & E. L. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology (pp. 169–178). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Corbett, G. G., & Davies, I. R. L. (1997). A cross-cultural study of colour grouping: evidence for weak linguistic relativity. British Journal of Psychology, 88, 493–517.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Decure, N. (1994). The difficulties of teaching a ‘man-made language’. Women and Language, 17, 36.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Dollard, J., Doob, L. W., Miller, N. E., Mowrer, O. H., & Sears, R. R. (1939). Frustration and aggression. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Eisenberg, D. (1985). Grammatical sexism in Spanish. Journal of Hispanic Philology, 9, 189–196.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Everett, D. L. (2005). Cultural constraints on grammar and cognition in Pirahã. Current Anthropology, 46, 621–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ferligoj, A., Frieze, I. H., & Marinaga, Y. (1993). Career plans and gender-role attitudes of college students in the United States, Japan, and Slovenia. Sex Roles, 29, 317–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gibbons, J. L., Shkodriani, G. M., & Stiles, D. A. (1991). Adolescents’ attitudes toward family and gender roles: an international comparison. Sex Roles, 25, 625–643.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Hahn, E. D., & Spence, J. T. (1997). The attitudes toward women scale and attitude change in college students. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 17–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hamilton, M. C. (1988). Using masculine generics: does generic he increase male bias in the user’s imagery? Sex Roles, 19, 785–793.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Jacobson, M. B., & Insko, W. R., Jr. (1985). Use of nonsexist pronouns as a function of one’s feminist orientation. Sex Roles, 13, 1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Jost, J. T. (1995). Negative illusions: conceptual clarification and psychological evidence concerning false consciousness. Political Psychology, 16, 397–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Jost, J. T. (1997). An experimental replication of the depressed-entitlement effect among women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 387–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Jost, J. T., & Banaji, M. R. (1994). The role of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness. British Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 1–27.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Labrosse, C. (1999). The common-gender in French: a promising way to eliminate sexism. Women and Language, 22, 56.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lenneberg, E. H. (1953). Cognition in ethnolinguistics. Language, 29, 463–471.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Major, B. (1994). From social inequality to personal entitlement: the role of social comparisons, legitimacy appraisals, and group memberships. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 26, 293–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Parks, J. B., & Roberton, M. A. (1998). Contemporary arguments against nonsexist language: Blaubergs (1980) revisited. Sex Roles, 39, 445–461.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. New York: Morrow.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Rowling, J. K. (2005a). Harry potter and the half-blood prince. New York: Scholastic.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Rowling, J. K. (2005b). Harry potter et le prince de sang-mêlé (trans: Ménard J.F.). Paris: Gallimard.

  27. Rowling, J. K. (2006). Harry potter y el misterio del principe (trans: Rovira Ortega G.). Barcelona: Salamandra.

  28. Rudman, L. A., & Kilianski, S. E. (2000). Implicit and explicit attitudes toward female authority. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1315–1328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Tougas, F., Brown, R., Beaton, A. M., & Joly, S. (1995). Neosexism: plus ca change, plus c’est pareil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 842–849.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Treas, J., & Widmer, E. D. (2000). Married women’s employment over the life course: attitudes in a cross-national perspective. Social Force, 78, 1409–1436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Whorf, B. (1956). Language, thought, reality. Cambridge: Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Zimmer, T. A. (1975). Sexism in higher education: a cross-national analysis. Pacific Psychological Review, 18, 55–67.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Allyson J. Weseley.

Appendix

Appendix

The passages used as the experimental stimuli appear below, along with the directions that accompanied them.

Instructions: Please read the following passage.

“Well, Harry,” said Dumbledore, “I am sure you understood the significance of what we just heard. At the same age as you are now, give or take a few months, Tom Riddle was doing all he could to find out how to make himself immortal.”

“You think he succeeded then, sir?” asked Harry. “He made a Horcrux? And that’s why he didn’t die when he attacked me? He had a Horcrux hidden somewhere? A bit of his soul was safe?”

Las instrucciones: Lee por favor el pasaje siguiente.

« Bien, Harry» prosiguió Dumbledore. Estoy convencido de que comprendes la importancia de lo que acabamos de oír. Cuando Tom Ryddle tenía aproximadamente la misma edad que tú ahora, intentó por todos los medios averiguar cómo podía alcanzar la inmortalidad.

« ¿Y usted cree que lo consiguió, señor? ¿Hizo un Horrocrux y por eso no murió cuando me atacó a mí? Quizà tenía un Horrocrux escondido en algúa sitio o una parte de su alma estaba a salvo.»

Instructions : S’il vous plaît lire le passage suivant.

« Harry », reprit Dumbledore, « je suis sûr que tu comprends la signification de ce que nous venons d’entendre. Au même âge que le tien aujourd’hui, à quelques mois près, Tom Jedusor faisait ce qu’il pouvait pour trouver le moyen de se rendre immortel. »

« Et vous croyez qu’il à réussi, monsieur ? » demanda Harry. « Il à créé un Horcruxe ? C’est pour ça qu’il n’est pas mort quand il m’a attaqué ? Il avait un Horcruxe caché quelque part ? Un fragment de son âme était préservé ? »

A 7-point Likert-type scale was used for the scales where an answer of “1” denoted “strongly disagree” and an answer of “7” denoted “strongly agree.”

Social Attitudes Scale
English Spanish French
1. There is no more prejudice against women who work in America. 1. Ya no existen prejuicios contra las mujeres que trabajan en América. 1. Il n’y a plus de préjugé contre les femmes qui travaillent aux États-Unis.
*2. In 2006, it is more difficult for women to get and keep a job than in past years. *2. [sic] En el año 2006 es más difícil para que mujeres obtengan y mantengan un trabajo que en años pasados. *2. En 2006, c’est plus difficile pour les femmes d’obtenir et garder un travail que dans le passé.
3. Women should not go where they are not wanted. 3. Las mujeres no deben ir donde ellas no están aceptadas. 3. Les femmes ne devraient pas aller là où elles ne sont pas voulues.
4. Women should wait for change, because change will come if they are patient. 4. Las mujeres deberían esperar un cambio porque el cambio vendrá si ellas son pacientes. 4. Les femmes devraient attendre le changement, parce que le changement viendra si elles sont patientes.
*5. If business were fair, men and women would have an equal chance to get a job. *5. [sic] Si en el mundo de los negocios, los hombres y las mujeres fueran justos, ellos tendrían una oportunidad igual para obtener un trabajo. *5. Si les affaires étaient justes, les hommes et les femmes auraient des chances égales d’obtenir un travail.
6. It would be difficult to work for a female boss. 6. Sería difícil trabajar para un jefe femenino. 6. Ce serait difficile à travailler pour un patron femme.
7. Women complain too much about the inequality between men and women. 7. Las mujeres se quejan demasiado sobre la desigualdad que existe entre hombres y mujeres. 7. Les femmes se plaignent trop de l’inégalité entre les hommes et les femmes.
8. The government has given too much to women recently. 8. El gobierno les ha dado demasiado a las mujeres recientemente. 8. Le gouvernement a donné trop aux femmes récemment.
9. Money is wasted on women who attend expensive colleges because they will quit their jobs to raise their children. 9. El dinero está malgastado por las mujeres que asisten a universidades prestigiosas porque ellas abandonarán sus trabajos para criar a sus niños. 9. L’argent est gaspillé sur les femmes qui assistent aux universités chères parce qu’ils quitteront leur travail pour élever leurs enfants.
10. In order to be fair, businesses hire women who are not competent enough to do the job. 10. Para ser justos, los negocios emplean a mujeres que no son tan competentes para hacer el trabajo. 10. Afin d’être juste, les entreprises engagent des femmes qui ne sont pas assez compétentes pour faire le travail.

*Indicates item was reverse-scored.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wasserman, B.D., Weseley, A.J. ¿Qué? Quoi? Do Languages with Grammatical Gender Promote Sexist Attitudes?. Sex Roles 61, 634 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-009-9696-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Sexist attitudes
  • Grammatical gender
  • Language
  • Gender differences