People tend to picture men
A superhero, a surgeon, and a priest walk into a bar*. If you’re picturing three men, your brain has tripped over gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are triggered by the traditional gender images around us. It takes our brain some backtracking, or a nudge, to realize these three could be women, non-binary, or a mixed group. You have several options to nudge brains into including all genders (see below).
The punchline? Is “Ouch.” 🥱
Doesn't resonate with
- Everyone who identifies as a woman
- People in the LGBTQIA+ community
- People in occupations and roles historically dominated by another gender
The idea of men as the human default is deeply embedded in our culture. This male bias informs our legal language. It shapes how our brain reads the gender of roles like officer or leader. This bias is reinforced by language and imagery that draws on gender stereotypes. At the same time, our brain’s tendency toward male reading of functions undercuts the representation of women and gender non-conforming people. And it limits people to traditional gender roles, gender identities, and gender expressions. Our gender reading of words can shift as more people take on non-traditional gender roles. And there is evidence that the language we choose to use not only reflects but creates gender perception. A 2019 study showed that gender-neutral pronouns increase positive attitudes toward women and LGBTQIA+ people. Language is the key to making inclusion happen.
What you can do to include all gender possibilities
1 - Focus on the activity.
2 - Avoid words with a gendered undertone like rockstar, guru, or superhero.
3 - Rephrase with plurals or gender-neutral words.
4 - Nudge brains back on track with the gender-neutral they.
- Ladies First or Ladies Last: Do Masculine Generics Evoke a Reduced and Later Retrieval of Female Exemplars? (N. Keith, K. Hartwig, & T. Richter)
- Hidden but Widespread Gender Biases Emerge in Millions of Words (Tessa Charlesworth)
- How language shapes the way we think (Lera Boroditsky)
- Language influences mass opinion toward gender and LGBT equality (Margit Tavits and Efrén O. Pérez)
- The subtle ways language shapes us (Nayantara Dutta)
- The extinction of male generics (Brian D. Earp)