Gender-neutral language

Overview of topics:
1. The Generic Masculinum
2. Breaking down gender stereotypes
3. Other gender-neutral language solutions

Language reflects the culture in which it is spoken. A gender-neutral language aims at not further promoting and even reducing gender stereotypes through language. Studies have shown potential in this respect. Moreover, gender-neutral language includes individuals who neither identify as female, nor male.

1. The Generic Masculinum

If I want to express that I need legal representation, I would say „I need a lawyer who defends me“. I would not mean that I want a male lawyer, but any lawyer.

In languages such as English and German, the generic, gender-unspecific form corresponds to the masculine version. However, studies show that the generic masculine is often interpreted as male rather than generic.

So, in this example one would think of a male lawyer, although it was not my intention to make a pre-selection according to gender. Thus, our language contains a bias in favor of the male sex and to the disadvantage of the female.

For this reason, the additional pronoun „hen“ was introduced in the Swedish language. It is, so to speak, the „es“ that can be used for persons and adds an additional generic alternative to the pronouns „han“ (he) and „hon“ (she)1

A counterexample is the Thai language, which knows no gender. In order to emphasize a gender, you would have to say it specifically, such as „a female cow“.

2. Breaking down gender stereotypes

A study by Margit Tavits and Efrén O. Pérez of Washington University in St. Louis shows that the use of gender-neutral pronouns reduces gender stereotypes and also positively influences attitudes towards women and homosexuals, thus promoting gender equality.

The researchers investigated the influence of gender-neutral pronouns on 3,000 Swedes. First, they showed the participants a caricature of a figure walking a dog, whose gender was not recognizable.

They then divided the subjects into three groups at random. They all had to describe what happened in the picture. However, group 1 should only use neutral pronouns (hen), group 2 only female pronouns (hon = she) and group 3 only male pronouns (han = he).

The subjects were then asked to complete a story about a person who was running for political office. No gender or name was given to the person. Group 1 was more likely to give non-male names than group 3.

Finally, participants answered questions about their views on women and LGBT people. Group 1 showed more positive attitudes than group 13.

3. Other gender-neutral language solutions

In the English language there are many masculine job descriptions for which you can use a gender-neutral alternative, for example „firefighter“ instead of „fireman“ or „police officer“ instead of „police man“.

Moreover, it is common to use „they“ as a gender-neutral singular version instead of „he“ or „she“, even if it is grammatically controversial.

“We need a brave firefighter. I will pick them now!“

“Somebody parked wrong. Could they please move their car”

Another, but rather non-standard version, is the pronoun „ze“ instead of he or she.

Ze is our new firefighter. We recruited zir yesterday. Zirs background is flawless and ze built zirself a good reputation.“

The Happy Jona – values:

✓ equality   ✓ honesty   ✓ sustainability   ✓ empathy   ✓ respect

Read more about gender-neutrality


  1. requested 04.09.2019
  2. requested 04.09.2019
  3.,, requested 04.09.2019

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