The article “Children’s Understanding of Sexist Language” by Janet Shibley Hide, a professor at Denison University, focuses on the gender neutral use of “his” and “her” in text. Hide did an experiment where she studied a first, third and fifth grader, as well as a college student who did numerous tasks designed to see if the student would use the pronoun “he” or “she” in a sentence, or imply that “he” or “she” was the subject of the story.
Hide found that “he” was filled into sentences not only by first graders, third and fifth graders a majority of the time, but also by college students. She also found that while 84% of college students had a grasp of the gender neutral term “he”, only 28% of first graders understood that concept.
A next experiment done by Hide extended on the first experiment- this test included a story with four different pronouns, “he”, “she”, “they” and “he or she”. Although the story was about a female, most readers attributed the subject of the story to ultimately be a male, furthering adding to Hide’s evidence that few students grasp the concept of the gender neutral use of the pronoun “he.”
Hide’s research was a comment on feminism and sexism in America. The feminist movement began in America in the 1960s and over the past decade has raised a number of issues, including the pay women had been making in the workplace compared to men, the availability of daycare for working women and the general expectations that women with children have one primary job, and that was to care for their kids. Throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, things began to change and more and more women not only entered the workforce, but started to take high powered corporate roles in Fortune 500 companies- something that had been foreign for women in the past.
Despite women making a huge stride in America’s workplace, a problem arose, a huge problem. Women that were doing the exact same job as men, women who held the exact same title as the men, in the exact same company, were being paid as much as 30% less than their male equivalent. This caused a huge uproar in the feminist community and caused Hide to question how far sexism extended.
Hide decided to turn her focus towards language and see if the same male dominance played a role in the English language. Through a number of experiments Hide found that in gender neutral story after gender neutral story, children of all ages chose to use the pronoun “he” in the story, even if the story led the reader to believe the subject was female. Hide was able to conclude that students from first grade all the way to college tend to interpret the gender neutral pronoun “he” as a male, even despite evidence to the contrary. Her study on the English language did seem to conclude that there is a sexist bias when people approach grammar. Hide feels that approaching this issue at an early age is the best way to eliminate this sexist thinking and the development of the gender-schema in a child.