consider action research on gender usage

Jan Wilson (G1824303@NMSUVM1.NMSU.EDU)
Mon, 10 Apr 1995 14:36:55 MDT

Some years back several studies were conducted on recall of text content
as a function of using "his," "her," or "their." (Sorry, I don't have
cites; those profoundly interested could do a Psyclit search.) Results
of studies which used "his" and "their" were that the male college students
remembered text material using "his" better than that using "their," and
female college students remembered better text material using "their" better
than that using "his." Also, of studies using "her" and "their," female
college students recalled better the text using "her," and the males
recalled better the text using "their."

What is the situation for your classes (those of you who teach)? Consider
giving some lectures using "their" or using "his" or "her" and then do item
discrimination analysis on the test items. (Results, of course, are of
limited generalizability -- but nonetheless germane to your classes. And,
if a lot of people do such action research -- results even of nature of
action research -- would be greater generalizabilty.)

A previous post (cannot remember by whom) implied that focus on "mankind" as
a term that excluded women was a focus of feminists who were taking pot shots
at words with "man" in them. Actually, that focus was a result of experiences
of women. There are many of us -- especially among those of us in our
forties -- who remember including ourselves in with "man" and "mankind" while
reading only to brought up short by some statement that "women" or "girls"
were different. While I do not take offense at the use of "man" or "mankind,"
when the words are used by someone, I do pay attention to the context and to
additional statements made by the individual, which may then indicate that
the individual is sexist or is not sexist. Also, I would not lambast a male
for using terms which could as easily be stated without gender reference as
with (such as mail carrier vs. mailman), as I sometimes do the same myself.
The reasons may be different; I don't know. For myself, I had to work so hard
sometimes to INCLUDE myself as a woman -- that, by golly, it's a victory of
a sort to use those words with gender construction. Even so, even though I'll
accept "mankind" to include women, it was a thrill (a thrill probably few men
experienced) to hear the voiceover on Star Trek saying "where no one has gone
before" instead of "where no man has gone before." Yea, I know we women
were being included then. (And remember our country's history regarding
not letting the women training as astronauts go into space.)

On the other hand, I also remember at a graduate student training session
(on sensitivity, no less) an incident wherein some women jumped all over
a guy for referring to his women students as "girls." When I heard his
statement, I contextualized it. In an earlier statement, he had referred to
his male students as "boys," a phrase that echoed a woman professor's usage of
"boys and girls" for her students. Since "boys" and "girls" were
equivalent, to me, his statement was NOT sexist (we'll leave out possible
ageism issues here). But, apparently, the females who castigated him did not
pay any attention to his usage of "boys." Instead, their ears were primed for
certain words rather than for context. That's the kind of over-reaction that
I lament. Furthermore, there are more important issues, such as the misuse of
deictics. Oh well, I've rambled on and on. My apologies if I've bored y'all.
Janette Wilson. G1824303 at