Gendered Language and Sexism: The Effects of “He” Language in Religion
Mentor:Adam Fingerhut, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Loyola Marymount University
Sexism is an ongoing social problem and often appears in the language we use. For example, sexism occurs in a frequent and covert manner when the allegedly generic "men" is used in daily conversation to refer to people in general. The use of the generic "he" may become particularly problematic when used in a religious context in reference to a deity by which many people govern their lives. Referring to God in a masculine form may leave women feeling excluded. Furthermore, such language implies a hierarchy in which a masculine God is the most powerful, suggesting that masculinity dominates over femininity or that men dominate over women. The current research was designed to examine the potential effects that gendered religious language has on men and women's attitudes toward themselves, toward their respective gender groups, and about sexism in modern society. Participants (N = 279), who were recruited through the Human Subjects Pool at Loyola Marymount University and through contacts known to the researchers, completed an online study supposedly regarding religion and worldviews. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions in which they were exposed either to prayers referring to God as male or in a gender-neutral manner. They then completed questionnaires measuring self-esteem, identification with one's gender, and modern sexism. In contrast to prediction, gendered language did not have a significant effect on members of either gender group such that there were no significant differences in self-esteem, collective self-esteem, or sexism between the control and experimental groups. This fact in itself is significant. It is hypothesized that there was an absence of significant results because sexism in religious language is so engrained in American culture that it is impossible for men or women to see outside of this hierarchical context, even when language does not embody status differences.