Media coverage of transgender issues has created problems over labeling individuals with incorrect pronouns.
Minjie Li, a researcher from The University of Tampa, studied how the use of gender-influenced pronouns and names in news articles affected the attitudes of readers toward members of the transgender community. Li also researched how this could affect the reader’s judgment on the credibility of the news organization and the professionalism of the reporter.
Li experimented by mix-matching gender pronouns (he/she) and gender influenced names (Lance/Cassidy) in sample news articles. The experiment was tested on 128 undergraduate students at a college in the American South. The students were randomly given one of four news articles, each pairing the gender pronoun and name differently.
The study found that the testers hosted more negative attitudes toward the transgender person when the male name (Lance) was matched with the female pronoun (she) rather than the male pronoun (he). No notable pattern was seen over stories that used the female name (Cassidy) with either gender pronoun.
Lie’s research explains that this could have been caused by the testers’ preconceived biases toward gender in society. Testers, however, felt that news organizations that used the individual’s preferred gender pronouns, regardless of the individual’s name, were credible sources.
Lie theorizes that some of the testers may have been familiar with the gender-labeling practices of news organizations before taking the test.
In contrast, the reporter in the story that matched the female name (Cassidy) and the female pronoun (she) was seen as being more professional compared to the other samples.
Li, M. (2019). (Mis)matching: Journalistic uses of gender pronouns and names can influence implicit attitudes toward transgender people, perceived news content credibility, and perceived reporter professionalism. Newspaper Research Journal, 40(4), 517–533. https://doi.org/10.1177/0739532919873083