Our project stemmed from a personal interest in gender, particularly the way it’s communicated and perceived through language. Language is one of the most powerful vehicles through which gender discrimination is reproduced. Gender stereotypes dictating that women should display communal/warm traits while men should agentic/competent traits trickle through to society through the lexical influences of everyday communication. Consequently, language also produces and reflects the societal asymmetries of power in the favour of men and their attached societal roles. Gendered language is so common that it’s difficult for some people to even notice it. From job postings to laws, the omnipresence of gendered language can affect a wide range of behaviors and lead to indoctrinated biases. The gender stereotyping and discrimination perpetuated by the English language is unnecessary. Our mission is to dismantle these stereotypes and combat the discrimination.
The most common practice for dismantling stereotypes is the reversal of the binary: taking the inferior side having it supercede it’s opposition. This technique highlights how harmful and unnecessary these implemented structures can be to the non-marginalised. However, our project is too subtle and our binary too complex to simply reverse. Pronouns can’t just be flipped, they needed to be neutralised in order to create a truly equal society. We achieved this by creating Neutra, a web browser extension that neutralized all gender pronouns on the internet pages our users visited.
Neutra provides users with a unique opportunity to engage with genuine cultural change. As an interface, Neutra is easily accessible to a wide demographic of internet-users. Furthermore, it is one of the most relevant ways to spread the concept of gender neutral language, as the internet is by far the most efficient way to spread information in our day and age.
Neutra’s focus on natural language allows for cohesion and a seamless reading experience. The subtlety of the extension is one of its strongest points: its a non-disruptive and simple solution to a pervasive cultural problem. In the same way that we don’t notice the bias and sexism inherent to the english language, people won’t notice when that language is removed.
Another important benefit of Neutra is it’s message; allowing people to see the world from a different perspective, separate from the confines of gender. We hope Neutra will provide our society with an illuminating view on the way language interacts with gender.
Despite it’s subtlety, Neutra has given us a unique opportunity to enact genuine cultural change. As women, we were both hyper-aware of the impact gender has historically and institutionally had on females. Working on this project has been an empowering experience that has further deepened our understanding of not only the english language, but also of the roots of feminism. More so than our own experience, this project has also allowed us to research and explore the male perspective more thoroughly. While our understanding will never be as comprehensive as that of a man, we made particular effort to ensure our product was inclusive and relevant to their own experience. Despite the fact that our entire intention was to remove gender from mainstream media, we have both vastly expanded our knowledge and understanding of the constraints gender inflicts on men, women and everyone in between.
Please view our final product and video here:
Social Narratives Project – Ladina Brunner and Natalia Gulbransen-Diaz