Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Using the Gender-Decoder

I am sure that most of us now automatically use the Oxford gender neutral “they/them” instead of “his/her” or she/he. Not only does this read so much better, but is also shows far fewer assumptions in our writing. It also helps to create a little more distance between ourselves and our writing, injecting a little less immediacy and a little more objectivity.

All useful things. However, being more gender neutral does not end at personal pronouns. There is a lot of language that carried gendered ideas. Words such as mankind, manhours, women's work, chairman, actress, seamstress, congressman, manmade, the common man, the man in the street... I could go on. Ensuring we use sensible alternatives helps to prevent the reader from making gendered assumptions about our writing, using alternatives such as humanity, workhours, care work, chair, actor, tailor (or, gulp, "sewist"), MP, synthetic, the average person. 

However, we don't always spot our slips in documents that we use all the time. So it is always good to let someone else read them before we go public. In addition, when we receive documents from others, letting someone else read them could be helpful. It could also be helpful to get an opinion on whether those documents are showing gendered slips before we were to - say - apply for a job with them.

Enter Kat Matfield - a Canadian programmer. Following reading a 2011 research paper (Gaucher et al., 2011), Kat realised that women "felt that job adverts with masculine-coded language were less appealing and that they [the women] belonged less in those occupations" (Matfield, 2022b), while men were not really affected by either feminine or masculine gendered writing: men felt the world was their oyster. So Kat created a text analysis tool called the Gender Decoder, which you can check out here:

We can copy text from a job description or similar, and paste it into the text field. We can then test our text for how gendered the text is. I put up an NMIT job description, which came back as being feminine-gendered. Nice.

Check it out: it is quite fun to try.



Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., & Kay, A. C. (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 109-128.

Matfield, K. (2022a). Gender Decoder.

Matfield, K. (2022b). About this tool.

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