There is a substantial amount of feminist research on sexism in language and various forms of media sexism (children’s literature, print, radio, and television advertising and programming, and motion pictures). However, after an extensive search for studies linking language and media sexism to unintentional propaganda that occurs in small groups and one-on-one, nothing specifically linking them was uncovered. This literature review hopes to fill that gap.

Keywords: feminism, sexism, language, media, unintentional propaganda


Research Statement

While my fascination and study of propaganda began several years ago, I did not make the leap and link it to language and media sexism until a few years ago through a feminist psychology course. My research began with the definition of unintentional propaganda supplied by Leonard W. Doob (1966). This definition allowed me to make the connection to language, small groups and unintentional influence. When I began researching literature for this bibliography, I was hopeful that I would find unintentional propaganda, or at least propaganda linked to language and media sexism within the research. After an extensive search, I found nothing directly. Instead, I found references to overt, subtle, and unintentional sexism embedded in language, literature, and media texts. I was able to tie these directly to unintentional propaganda based on discussion material in each source.

Annotated Bibliography

The research into the influence of unintentional propaganda (Doob, 1966, pp. 370-371) began from an exploration into the key issues within media texts and artifacts examined by feminist theorists related to the influence of unintentional sexist propaganda upon women and girls. After casually exploring feminist media research, none of the texts made the connection that sexism was related to propaganda at all. However, a direct connection was found between Doob’s description of unintentional propaganda and current and recent research into influence, language, and gender roles. The results opened this annotated bibliography to deeper searches within the literature.


Bates, L. (2016) Everyday Sexism Project. Retrieved from http://everydaysexism.com/ [7.09.61]

The Everyday Sexism Project founded by Laura Bates, is an ongoing forum, an anonymous outlet for women and girls to express their opinions and record their stories of the sexism they are subject to on a daily basis, “in ordinary places” and a place “to prove how widespread the problem really is” (Bates, 2016). The site is in English but has links to national flags at the top of the page that allows for site descriptions and submissions in several other languages. The author used the site’s response for her first book, “Everyday Sexism,” published in 2014. The entries also act as a repository of information for possible future books and current newspaper articles. The forum includes responses that range from recorded microaggressions to full-blown harassment from a wide variety of women and girls from 25 countries. The responses alone could serve as raw data for future research into occurrences of everyday sexism and unintentional propaganda.


Cameron, D. (2005). Language, gender, and sexuality: Current issues and new directions. Applied Linguistics, 26(4), 482-502. [7.01.3]

Cameron (2005) explores the evolution in linguistic and sociolinguistic studies in the areas of gendered and sexual identities and practices, addressing the shifts in approaches to the research as well as the motivations for the shifts. Cameron digs deeper in the empirical research illustrating the practical consequences as well as identifying present and future challenges for researchers. The author is a feminist linguist primarily focusing on the relationship of language to gender and sexuality. She is a professor in Language and Communication at Worcester College, University of Oxford. The value to my research, while not directly related to sexism, is primarily important for the author’s explorations of postmodern feminist diversity and performative gender rather than fixed socializations of gender differences that I should consider for future study.


Doob, L. W. (1966). Public opinion and propaganda (2nd ed.). Hamden, CT: Archon Books. [7.02.18]

Doob (1966) presents a psychological to public opinion and propaganda that links psychology to social behavior in terms of stimulus-response, personality, habits, attitudes and knowledge. Propaganda is analyzed from its nature, practitioners, content, perception, learning, and relation to personality and action. Various forms of media propaganda are described and analyzed critically. Leonard W. Doob was a professor emeritus of Psychology at Yale University, a pioneering figure in the fields of cognitive and social psychology and propaganda and communication studies. He served as Director of Overseas Intelligence for the Office of War Information in World War II. The value of this text to my research is primarily in the extensive explanation and analysis of propaganda, especially unintentional propaganda where dissemination is not deliberately controlled and the content travels via popular or public opinion.


Gender Bias. (2001). In B.R. Strickland (Ed.), Gale encyclopedia of psychology. (2nd ed., p. 273). New York, NY: Gale Group. [7.02]

Strickland (2001) enumerates the socially constructed elements of gender bias against women and girls, cites the passage of Title IX designed to provide equal opportunities in all activities for boys and girls, and cites a 1992 study that revealed that it was seldom enforced (American Association of University Women, 1992 in Strickland, 2001). Strickland is a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and former president of the American Psychological Association. The article does not explore the underlying environmental, linguistic, or even mass media relationships to the causes of gender bias. While adequate, this article will only serve as reference for additional resources.


Gremillion, S. C. (2013). Dragged into the Future: How Internet Communications and Media Legitimacy Facilitate Lagging Gender Norms. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-11252013-092816/ [7.05.42]

Gremillion (2013) explores the tripartite influence of media, Internet communications, and social interactions upon the gender norms of the Internet Age, where symbols of our culture are learned from these interactions, but are also one of the structural elements that perpetuate sexist stereotypes preventing women from achieving parity with men. The full text also includes a discussion of social constructs that influence those social interactions. Gremillion is a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University. His research focuses on the intersection of gender and technology. There is no discussion of propaganda in the text, but the author discusses influence and social interaction which relates directly to my current research into unintentional propaganda within social interactions of small groups of women and girls.


Hollander, J. A., & Abelson, M. J. (2014). Language and Talk. In J. McLeod, E. Lawler & M. Schwalbe (Eds.), Handbook of the social psychology of inequality (pp. 181-206). New York, NY: Springer. [7.02.25]

Hollander and Abelson (2014) analyze current social psychological research on language and talk and how they intersect with inequality in three ways:   Their “talk,” where status and power become visible to others; their language, to mask their efforts to create or minimize inequality; and “doing” inequality, via social interaction. Jocelyn A. Hollander is a professor of sociology at University of Oregon and Miriam J. Abelson is a professor in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Portland State University. The value in the text is in the overview of current research into language and talk across multiple disciplines as they relate to inequality. Additionally, the reference list will serve as resources for further research if needed.


Khazan, O. (2016, November 4). The lasting harm of Trump-style sexism. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/11/how-trump-style-words-hurt/506456/ [7.01.08]

Khazan (2016) offers an example from the political landscape where she discusses sexism in the latest election season. The article explores the bipartisan disgust of women towards the sexist behavior and commentary of president-elect Donald Trump as well as the psychological effects of negative, discriminatory, and insulting speech. Olga Khazan is a staff writer for the Atlantic where she covers health and gender. While the article offers no value to research, it serves to gauge the current climate of sexism and media upon the general public and provides ideas for discussion amongst study participants for further research beyond this project.


Kingston, A. J., & Lovelace, T. (1977). Sexism and reading: A critical review of the literature. Reading Research Quarterly, 133-161. [7.01.3]

Kingston & Lovelace (1977) review literature on sexism from 78 articles, analyzing basal readers, texts, and children’s literature. However, they discovered that the articles’ authors’ reasonings were simplistic, vague, or subjective, utilizing a simple tally to determine the frequency of female names, pronouns, characters, illustrations, and the number of male and female authors. Some surveyed authors looked at women’s jobs and how they were portrayed, with traditional gender roles viewed as stereotypes without specifically defining terms. The articles are primarily concerned with the impact on children without substantiating the influence of the sex stereotypes in the books that they surveyed. Albert J. Kingston was a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Georgia until his retirement in 1985. Terry Lovelace is associate professor of professional education at Northwestern Missouri State University. The value of such a literature review, even though it dates to the mid-1970s and the articles surveyed date to the mid-1930s, is in the article search that was conducted to determine what recent articles referenced it. The link to recent articles allow for deep research of the literature for recent scholarship.


Kortenhaus, C. M., & Demarest, J. (1993). Gender role stereotyping in children’s literature: An update. Sex Roles, 28(3-4), 219-232. [7.01.3]

Kortenhaus and Demarest (1993) cite the original article of Kingston and Lovelace (1977) but examined 150 children’s books over the last 50 years and reported that the frequency of males and females in the stories and books were more evenly distributed, indicating a trend of decreasing sexism in children’s literature. But while girls were depicted with more instrumental roles, they are still depicted as passive, and boys were characterized as instrumental and independent. Carole M. Kortenhaus was a student co-author for this article. Jack Demarest is a professor in psychology at Monmouth University. While I am not researching children’s literature, the article is still valuable as a reference point for my research into the unintentional influence of sexism within the literature upon women and girls gender stereotypes. The references can also point me in the direction of even more recent research.


Lovdal, L. T. (1995). Sexism in language: Thief of honor, shaper of lies [Video file]. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Media. [Style Guide, p. 26]

Lovdal (1995) explains the subtle meanings and intentions behind language and how those subtleties reveal an unintentional influence of language on sexism. The video explores sexism in the syntax and semantics of language and reveals its often-unintentional influence. Four areas are explored: “Female” words that are dependent on “male” versions, words looked upon as more positive for men than for women, words that carry negative connotations for women, and “neutral” words that become inferior when applied to women. Lynn T. Lovdal is an adjunct professor of linguistics, language, and gender at Ohio State University. Given that my interest is specifically in unintentional sexism embedded in language, the video is extremely straightforward and valuable. Lovdal covers the subject in depth, and though this subject can be considered vast, the video is at least an introduction to the subject. Additionally, it can be utilized as an introductory reference to the unintentional influence of sexism in the language.


Mills, S. (2008). Language and sexism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [7.02.18]

Mills (2008) explores sexism in language, not in the ways that previous scholars have, not in ways to overcome and counter it but in another way. She suggests taking conversational and textual data, and instead of confronting overt sexism, probing indirect sexism that can only be understood in the context of surrounding conversational utterances. She explains that indirect sexism is all too common and this book proposes new ways to analyze its usage. Sara Mills is a research professor in linguistics in the English Department at Sheffield Hallam University. The value here is in the analysis of indirect sexism that directly relates to my research into unintentional sexist propaganda and unintentional influence in the language.


Parks, J. B., & Roberton, M. A. (2004). Attitudes toward women mediate the gender effect on attitudes toward sexist language. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28(3), 233-239. [7.01.3]

Parks & Robertson (2004) discuss the culture of women, men, and power where men are assumed to be more comfortable than women holding and wielding that power. Exploring the literature in the field, the authors probe the available research for the link between language, gender, and power, analyzing the research behind the idea that gender behavior is not due to socially constructed gender roles but instead it is the influence of language on the stereotype. Janet B. Parks is a professor in the Sport Management, Recreation, and Tourism Division of the School of Human Movement, Sport, and Leisure Studies at Bowling Green State University. Mary Ann Roberton is a professor in the Kinesiology Division of the same school. The value of this article to the research is in the exploration of influence upon behavior and language that directly relates to unintentional influence and propaganda.


Tougas, F., Brown, R., Beaton, A. M., & Joly, S. (1995). Neosexism Scale. Retrieved from PSYCTESTS. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/t13566-000. [7.08.55]

Tougas, Brown, Beaton, & Jacobs (1995) used a scale that utilizes an agree / disagree 11-item neosexism inventory to assess gender prejudice and neosexist beliefs adapted from various covert racism scales. The exploratory factor analysis was conducted among all items of the scale and when no definite structure was obtained, all items were pooled. Francine Tougas, Rupert Brown, Ann M. Beaton, and Stephane Joly are professors of psychology at the University of Ottawa, Canada. While test results would valuable to background research, a study such as this would not be directly applicable to my research idea. However, it is possible that an adapted Neosexism scale could be utilized as preliminary research for a later study of unintentional propaganda of sexism within a mixed methods study.


While I have not been able to find any literature referencing unintentional propaganda at the direct intersection of sexist language, there is an abundance of literature exploring the influence of direct, indirect, and unintentional sexism upon girls and women. I found limited research in this area, but with my additions to the scholarship, I hope to shed more light onto the subject.