We have come a long way with the acceptance and respect for women however sexism and inequality is still alive and well. Hate crimes, sexual harassment, the wage gap and social exclusion are just some of the discriminatory acts that are still in use today. And one of the least known being gendered language. The words and expressions we use change everyday. However, those changes don’t seem to express the improvement in society regarding women’s rights.
Gendered language is so common that it is difficult for some people to even notice it. ¾ of the world’s languages use a sex-based system of feminine and masculine nouns whilst every single language spoken in today’s world makes some kind of gender distinction. Male centre words are everywhere! We use our manpower to elect congressmen who rule manmade institutions. And this can all have a damaging effect on our self-belief and self-image.
Words aren’t just meaningless sounds we make. When we use male-centric word as the norm, we choose men as the dominant group, effectively removing the remaining gender from our vocabulary and marking them as “other”. The words people hear affect their perceptions of the “correct” gender of certain careers, interests and activities. Due to the default of using the male noun when referring to jobs (such as fireman or postman), males become a prototype for specific jobs. This gives woman a huge, undesirable disadvantage when seeking out a labour force job as they would not fit the employers original vision of a man. Not only that, the use of gendered language could affect the choice men and women make through their life; this subtle yet effective way of depreciating women affects our choice of hobbies, GCSE and A-level options and our career choices. It can account for 125 million women being out of the labour force. And if we don’t stop this, there will be more.
Douglas R. Hofstadter is an American Professor. And to clearly show the extent of gendered language he replaced male-based generic words with race-based words. Therefore, manpower becomes whitepower. Mankind becomes white kind. Chairman becomes chairwhite. And so forth. And it is ridiculous that we would ever expect people of ethnic backgrounds to feel accepted in this made-up society. It would not only damage self-image but also leave a long-lasting effect where they believe that they are not able to meet the criteria of specific jobs due to something that they cannot control. But that is exactly what we do to women.
Whether in the classroom, at a party, or walking down the streets of my town, I’ve heard men and women refer to other women as “sluts,” I’ve heard classmates ridicule art and fashion as “girly crap,” I’ve heard coaches tell their players not to “throw like a girl,” I’ve heard friends tell each other to “man up” or “grow some balls.” It’s tiring and insulting, because pegging femininity and feminine words as negatives have a real impact on how we see individuals who identify that way. When we use female words to insult a woman, we communicate a disturbing message and we communicate the same disturbing message when we use only positive words with male terms. The usage of words like “slut” and “whore” are used to derogate women whilst terms such as “jack the lad” or “player” are used to promote men despite having similar situations between them both.
Alyson Jule describes gendered language as “The historical patriarchal hierarchy that has existed between men and women, where one is considered the norm and the other is marked as other – something quite different from the norm”. Gendered language is used so we see femininity as a weak trait — something over which to hold power; something to suppress and contain and control. It can make people feel stressed, uncomfortable and anxious (specifically people who identify as trans or intersex). Therefore we should all use gender neutral language.; it eliminates assumptions about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation; it avoids reinforcing gender binaries and respects diverse identities and it will no longer contribute to gender power imbalances. Everyone of us has the power to create the world we want to live in. So do we want a language that reflects our history of excluding and diminishing women? Or do we want a language that inspires people to be more inclusive for the future, for our mothers, our sisters and our friends? Your decision is to become a more respectful person by using gender neutral language, your decision is to build a world where people feel free to express themselves, feel included in conversations and feel empowered enough to build a career. It’s your decision to make a world that takes women seriously.