Perception of Gender in Text: Do Readers Assign Gender to Androgynous Characters in Readings?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
FORE, C. R. (2005). Perception of Gender in Text: Do Readers Assign Gender to Androgynous Characters in Readings?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 8. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Perception of Gender in Text: Do Readers Assign Gender to Androgynous Characters in Readings?
CASEY R. FORE
MISSOURI WESTERN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
Due to the up rise of political correctness, it is strongly encouraged that writers use gender-neutral language. This study was conducted to determine if a reader perceived gender from an androgynous, gender-neutral character in a story. The androgynous character, Pat, was described using the gender-neutral pronoun they and the neutral profession of news reporter. This story was compared two exact same stories using John and the pronoun he and Karen and the pronoun she. Thirty-seven participants were asked to read the story, complete a confidential survey regarding their personal information such as age, and fill out the BEM Sex Role Inventory as if they were the character in the story. Raw scores for the BEM Sex Role Inventory were calculated. Three one-way ANOVAs were calculated to determine if gender was perceived for the androgynous character. No significant results were found for the masculinity score or for the femininity score. No significant results were found for the masculinity to femininity ratio as well. A study using more participants may be necessary in order to yield significant results. The use of the BEM Sex Role Inventory should also be examined to see if the terms deemed masculine and feminine still apply in today’s society. In addition, since the rise of political correctness occurred in the early 1990’s and the mean age of the participants was 20, the age of the participants may have played a role in the insignificant results. Gender-neutrality may not be as important of an issue in today’s society as it has been in the past. In addition, preconceived gender-biases can be solved by giving a pretest to determine which terms participants deem to be masculine and feminine, as well as a list of gender-neutral names to determine which names are presently considered to be gender-neutral.

INTRODUCTION
Political correctness is a form of speech used to eliminate social and political biases in language (Lexico, 2005). The phrase political correctness was first recorded in reference to political and economic education received at the University of Wisconsin by Senator Robert LaFollette in his 1912 autobiography. It was not until the early 1990’s that the topic of political correctness expanded in language and the meaning spread worldwide. Political correctness surfaced from the concern of social differences such as “race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and religion” (Lexico, 2005). The idea of political correctness presented new terminology to describe people related to such social groups. For example, political correctness has changed they way that we label gender in terms of pronouns. In the 1970’s, pronouns such as his or him, today referred to as male-denoted pronouns, were commonly used in a gender-neutral manner. A study conducted by Elias et al. (1978) asked college students to create a fictional character based on a specific theme containing one of the following pronouns: “his”, “their”, or “his or her”. Elias et al. found that when using male terms as gender-neutral, students generally indicated their created character as being male. Only when the term his or her was used did more students create a female character (56% believed “his or her” was female, versus 35% when “his” was used and 46% when “their” was used). They found that using male terms as gender-neutral terms in a phrase led the participants to create a male character in their story rather than female. Results of gender equality were better when the pronouns his or her were used instead. When concerning the measure of gender, Bem developed a sex-role inventory, referred to as the BEM Sex Role Inventory, which measures personal masculinity, femininity, or androgyny based on personality characteristics (1974). With this inventory, the participant is given a list of sixty words and asked to give a rating between one and seven, whereas one means that term is never or almost never true and seven means the term is always or almost always true (Bihun, n.d.). Scores from the feminine and masculine terms are then gathered and calculated to determine a masculine, feminine, or androgynous score. This inventory is most commonly used for self-measurement, but as a very reliable measure of androgyny, could be used for a variety of studies (Bem, 1974). With the rise of political correctness, the use of gender-neutral language has become very significant in society. With realization that male pronouns do not equal gender neutrality, one might speculate whether using gender-neutral pronouns, such as it, they, them, or their, might also create the perception of a particular gender. In my study, I determined whether the use of a gender-neutral name, Pat, and the neutral pronoun, they, caused the participant to label the character as male or female. The character, Pat, was placed into a gender-neutral occupation and described exactly the same as the control characters, John and Karen. Only the name and pronouns used to describe the person were changed between each story. I hypothesize that participants will perceive the character as either male or female, not androgynous. The BEM Sex Role Inventory was used as the method for the participant to establish the gender of the character by having participants rate the character according to masculine and feminine characteristics listed.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
Data were collected from 37 students enrolled in an introductory psychology course at Missouri Western State University in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Twelve of the participants were male, and 25 were female. Participant age ranged from 18 to 35 with a mean age of 20.

MATERIALS
One of three short stories was given to the participants at random. The first story was a gender-specific story describing John, using the pronoun “he” to describe John (see Appendix A). The second story was a gender-specific describing Karen, using the pronoun “she” to describe Karen (see Appendix B). The third story was gender-neutral, describing Pat, using the pronoun “they” to describe Pat (see Appendix C). Each story was identical, describing the same occupation for each character, with only the character’s name and pronoun varying in each story. Participants were asked to read the story and take the short survey, asking their age, gender, and level of coursework completed as well as guessing the sex of the character in the story they read. Following the survey, participants were asked to fill-out the BEM Sex Role Inventory as if they were the character.

PROCEDURE
Stories were organized in the order of male, female, and androgynous to ensure that students seated near each other did not have an identical story. Packets containing one story, survey, and BEM Sex Role Inventory were handed to the participants at random and face down. The control group received either the male or female story. The experimental group received the androgynous story. The gender of the character is the dependent variable in this study whereas the sex of the participant, name of the character and pronoun used, and BEM Sex Role Inventory score of that character is the independent variable. Participants were asked to turn over the packet, read the story, and answer the questions that followed. They were then instructed to fill out the final page, the BEM Sex Role Inventory, as if they were the character. They were instructed to turn the packet face down and sit quietly until everyone had finished. Approximately ten minutes will be allotted for the completion of the study. Upon collecting the surveys, totals for the BEM Sex Role Inventory scores (see Appendix F) for each participant were tallied to determine raw scores in masculinity and femininity.


RESULTS
The masculinity scores of subjects that received each of the three stories were compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F(2,34) = .369, p>.05). The masculinity scores of the characters were not significant. The femininity scores of the subjects that received each of the three stories were compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F(2,34) = .459, p>.05). The femininity scores of the characters were not significant. To determine if the relative size of masculinity and femininity scores were different, a one-way ANOVA was calculated on ratio of masculinity to femininity scores. No significant difference was found (F(2,34) = .633, p>.05). The mean scores of masculinity and femininity scores were relatively the same size. See Figure 1 and Figure 2 for average masculinity and femininity scores for each of the stories given.


DISCUSSION
Using the BEM Sex Role Inventory raw scores, no significant difference was found between the use of gender-specific names and pronouns and gender-neutral names and pronouns. Participants did not rate the androgynous character as being highly masculine or highly feminine. Mean masculinity scores between the masculine story, feminine story, and androgynous story were very similar; therefore, the masculinity score was found to be insignificant (see Figure 1). Mean femininity scores between the masculine story, feminine story, and androgynous story were also very similar, therefore, no significance was found for the femininity score (see Figure 2). In addition, participants rated John, the male-denoted character, as having the lowest masculinity. In Elias et al. 1978 study of gender neutral pronouns, it was found that when the pronoun he or his was used as gender-neutral terms, it was perceived that the person being described was male. In my study, I found that there was no difference between the male, female, or androgynous pronouns and names used. I believed that participants would rate the male character as being masculine, the female character as being feminine, and would rate the androgynous character in either a masculine or feminine manner, however, the results proved otherwise. Using politically correct language by the use of gender-neutral pronouns had no effect on the masculinity or femininity scores of the androgynous character as compared to the male character and the female character. Although the use of politically correct language has been important in shedding bias in writing, perhaps it is not as important as it was once thought to be. Since the mean age of the participants was 20, it may be necessary to conduct this same study on an older population who were in the midst of the political correct period during the 1990’s. The sample used may have been too young when political correctness was a popular issue and might not believe in the same significance of gender-neutral language as those who are older. In addition, the participants may not have understood that they were to fill out the BEM Sex Role Inventory as if they were the character. Since the majority of the participants were female, this could explain the low masculinity scores among the male character. In addition, the BEM Sex Role Inventory may not be as accurate as it has been in the past because of today’s change in sex roles. Perhaps men are perceived as having more feminine traits than before and women are perceived as having more masculine traits than they did when the test was developed by Bem in 1974. These results might apply to the use of other gender-specific and gender-neutral names for the characters. In addition, these results could be generalized to different gender-neutral occupations. With the ever changing roles in society today, many occupations that were once found to be gender-specific are now becoming filled with both males and females and not dominated by one gender as they previously. In further research, I would explore the use of more gender-neutral occupations, as well as the use of more gender-specific occupations to see if there is a difference between the two professions. I would also collect data from a larger sample size and try to represent more of an age span as well as try to have roughly the same amount of males and females as participants in the study. I would recommend giving a pre-test a separate group of participants to see what occupations they find to be gender-neutral and use those as the occupations in the actual study. Perhaps it would be helpful to have the pre-test group to also rate the words on the BEM Sex Role Inventory as being most masculine and most feminine and use those words rated most masculine or most feminine in the actual study, or possibly change the scale to be “highly unlikely, unlikely, neither likely or unlikely, likely, or highly likely” instead of a numeral scale for better association with the characteristic. In addition, I would use at least two male names, two female names, and two gender-neutral names to ensure that the character name does not affect the results. Making these minor changes, it is possible for a significant result to be found.


REFERENCES
Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162.Bihun, J. (n.d.) The BEM sex-role inventory: Are you androgynous? Retrieved October 9, 2005 from http://carbon.cudenver.edu~jbihun/The%20Bem%20Sex.htmElias, C.; Moulton, J., & Robinson, G. M. (1978). Sex bias language: “Neutral” pronouns that aren’t. American Psychologist, 33, 1032-1036.Lexico Publishing Group LLC. (2005). Political correctness. Retrieved October 23, 2005 from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia website: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Political_correctness


APPENDIX A
John is a news reporter who works evenings for a local news station. He has worked for the station for eight years. He began as a story investigator for the news room. He later became field reporter during the morning broadcast. One year later, he became a morning show anchor. Recently, John was promoted to the position of 6 o’clock news anchor. John enjoys the job.


APPENDIX B
Karen is a news reporter who works evenings for a local news station. She has worked for the station for eight years. She began as a story investigator for the news room. She later became field reporter during the morning broadcast. One year later, she became a morning show anchor. Recently, Karen was promoted to the position of 6 o’clock news anchor. Karen enjoys the job.


APPENDIX C
Pat is a news reporter who works evenings for a local news station. They have worked for the station for eight years. They began as a story investigator for the news room. They later became field reporter during the morning broadcast. One year later, they became a morning show anchor. Recently, Pat was promoted to the position of 6 o’clock news anchor. Pat enjoys the job.


APPENDIX D
Please answer the following as if you were the character in the following story.

Rate each of the following words between 1 and 7:

1 (never or almost never true) and 7 (always or almost always true)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1. Self-reliant ______2. Yielding ______3. Helpful ______4. Defends Own Beliefs ______5. Cheerful ______6. Moody ______7. Independent ______8. Shy ______9. Conscientious ______10. Athletic ______11. Affectionate ______12. Theatrical ______13. Assertive ______14. Flatterable ______15. Happy ______16. Strong Personality ______17. Loyal ______18. Unpredictable ______19. Forceful ______20. Feminine ______21. Reliable ______22. Analytical ______23. Sympathetic ______24. Jealous ______25. Leadership Ability ______26. Sensitive to Other`s Needs ______27. Truthful ______28. Willing to Take Risks ______29. Understanding ______30. Secretive ______31. Makes Decisions Easily ______32. Compassionate ______33. Sincere ______34. Self-sufficient ______35. Eager to Soothe Hurt Feelings ______36. Conceited ______37. Dominant ______38. Soft-spoken ______39. Likable ______40. Masculine ______41. Warm ______42. Solemn ______43. Willing to Take a Stand ______44. Tender ______45. Friendly ______46. Aggressive ______47. Gullible ______48. Inefficient ______49. Acts As a Leader ______50. Child-like ______51. Adaptable ______52. Individualistic ______53. Does Not Use Harsh Language ______54. Unsystematic ______55. Competitive _____56. Loves Children ______57. Tactful ______58. Ambitious ______59. Gentle ______60. Conventional ______


APPENDIX E
What is your age? ______What is your current academic level?a) Freshmanb) Sophomorec) Juniord) Seniore) Other – Specify:___________________What is your sex?a) Maleb) FemaleWhat is the sex of the character in the previous story?a) Maleb) Femalec) Unsure


APPENDIX F
Evaluation of BEM Sex Role Inventory (Bihun, n.d.)Add scores of questions 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 37, 40, 43, 46, 49, 52, 55, 58. Divide this total by 20 to determine Masculinity score.Add scores of questions 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 32, 35, 38, 41, 44, 47, 50, 53, 56, 59Divide this total by 20 to determine Femininity score.

Submitted 12/8/2005 11:06:50 AM
Last Edited 12/8/2005 11:15:49 AM
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