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< Back to question Does androcentrism perpetuate gender roles? Show more Show less

Androcentrism refers to a worldview based on male perspectives and standards. Men and masculinity are viewed as the human norm and women and femininity are viewed as "other". Many languages--including English--have long used androcentric language. This can be seen by the use of spotlighting, order choice in conjoined terms, and male generic language which is the use of masculine pronouns and words like "man" or "mankind” to refer to both men and women, such as in Neil Armstrong's famous phrase "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Recently, though, many are arguing for more inclusive, gender-neutral language on the basis that androcentric speech ostracizes women and other genders.

Yes, androcentrism perpetuates gender roles Show more Show less

Androcentric language perpetuates gender roles by making men and masculine speech the norm, using male generic language to limit female representation, perpetuating gender stereotypes, and setting a different standard for how men and women are described and defined.
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Male generic language impacts representation

Male generic language uses masculine pronouns to refer to anyone. When male generic language is used, people are far more likely to picture men instead of women. This results in a lack of mental and linguistic representation, which excludes women and limits women’s opportunities.
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The Argument

Close your eyes and picture an image of man discovering fire. I bet you pictured a caveman not a cavewoman despite the fact that the phrase “man discovered fire” is meant to mean that people discovered fire.[1] This is an example of how male generic language impacts representation. Male generic language is using masculine pronouns when the person being referred to could be a man or woman. It is also using words such as businessman instead of the gender-neutral businessperson and mankind to refer to all people.[2] Some people argue that the use of male generic language is not a problem because people know that it is meant to include both men and women. However, this has been proven not to be the case. Just as you most likely pictured a caveman discovering fire, studies have found that when male generic language is used people are far more likely to picture men. One study asked children to pick pictures for a textbook with titles such as “Urban Man” or “Urban Life”. When the titles included male generic language the kids almost always picked pictures of men, but when they were gender-neutral they picked pictures of both men and women.[2] This lack of mental and linguistic representation excludes women and downplays women’s contribution to society. [1] It also limits women’s opportunities as seen by studies that have shown that women are less likely to pursue a job when the posting uses male generic language instead of gender-neutral language.[3]

Counter arguments

Throughout the history of English, the word "man" and words containing it ("mankind," "manpower") were used to refer to all human beings regardless of gender. Dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary, which trace the development of words throughout history, acknowledge that "man" means "human" or "person," not just "male individual." Since words like "mankind" have already been considered gender-neutral for centuries, they do not perpetuate any gendered stereotypes or gender roles. They simply refer to human individuals.


[P1] When male generic language is used, people are far more likely to picture men. [P2] This results in a lack of mental and linguistic representation, which excludes women and limits women’s opportunities.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Women aren't excluded since everyone knows that words like mankind represent all people.



This page was last edited on Sunday, 13 Sep 2020 at 16:34 UTC

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