Posted: October 30, 2012 by Jender in pronoun confusions

To prepare my undergraduate class for their term paper, I held a writing workshop where we went over what counted as “good” or “bad” examples of philosophy papers. I am female, and I said at the beginning of the class that the examples we were looking at were written by me.

When we discussed why certain sample papers received their hypothetical grades, I was very careful to say “the author” or “she” in referring to the samples I had provided. The students did not seem to notice and insisted on saying “well, he wrote this…” and “his introduction was poorly phrased” and so on. At one point I pointed out (again) that I had written the samples. Curiously, students then became more inclined to use “she”–but primarily for the “bad” example of a paper, while still leaving “he” or “the author” for the “good” paper.

Then, when I discussed this curious observation with a colleague, he suggested that maybe I had written the “bad” sample in a way that made it sound “feminine”, and this would explain why the students responded the way that they did.

I don’t even know how to process that.

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