According to a new Swedish study, there is evidence to suggest that the use of gender neutral terms to describe people promotes gender equality.
In his study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Margit Tavits Y Efrén Pérez describe experiments they performed with Swedish volunteers.
In 2012, the Swedes began discussing the addition of a new word to their language to describe people in a gender neutral way. The language already had the words hon and have, for him and her respectively, but the word "hen" It was proposed to describe people without referring to their gender.
By 2015, the use of the new word had become commonplace and was added to the glossary of the Swedish Academy. To find out if the inclusion of this term had reduced sexual bias, three experiments were conducted with more than 3,000 volunteers.
In the first experiment, the volunteers looked at an image that showed an androgynous character walking a dog. Each one was asked to use the name hon o han or the new word, hen, to describe the action in the image. In the second experiment, the volunteers completed a short story about a person of unknown gender who is running for a position. The final experiment consisted of soliciting opinions from LGBT and non-binary people.
People who used the new word, hen, to describe the image of who was walking the dog were less likely to use a male name for their character. They also discovered that people took the same amount of time to write the story about the person who was running for a position, regardless of the term they used to describe them. They also showed greater acceptance towards LGBT people.
The researchers conclude by suggesting that the introduction of the new word into the Swedish lexicon has led to a more inclusive gender language. They further suggest that such inclusion could be leading to lower gender bias and the promotion of gender equality.
Naturally, it is still premature to establish a cause-effect relationship: language has a very weak impact on our thinking and our prejudices (despite Sapir-Whorf's periclited hypotheses), and rather there is more evidence that everything works exactly the opposite: we change the language when our perception of reality changes.