WHY IS GENDER-BIASED AND SEXIST LANGUAGE USED? CAN WE MAKE OUR LANGUAGE MORE GENDER-NEUTRAL?
In this project, the local issue I decided to focus on was gender-biased and sexist language. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve noticed how words and the way we communicate can affect us. Especially when it defines us as people or our certain characteristics in reference to our gender. With that said, this leads me to try and understand what exactly gender-biased and sexist language is. Also how we can avoid/stop using such expressions or words when communicating with one another. That’s why with this project my main goal is to try and educate others on such topic and introduce alternatives, it being gender-neutral language, into our vocabulary to avoid discrimination.
This goal was created in efforts to try and contribute to the UN Sustainable development goal of gender equality. I believe language and the way we communicate has a large impact on how we view and treat others. So, if I can make people think about the kinds of words they are using and how it contributes to bias towards a persons sex or gender then I can create a shift. Meaning I can possibly change the way people communicate, creating a more welcoming and accepting environment with the use of gender-neutral language. Hopefully sparking a change, as people become more aware of the inequalities between genders.
How Gender-Biased and Sexist Language Came to Be
If we were to recognize a major flaw in the way we communicate and use language it would be that it is one of the most powerful ways through which sexism and gender discrimination is perpetuated. The reason for this is because gender-biased and sexist language is language that excludes one gender or implies that one is superior to the other. In continuation, when looking at language as a social construction we notice a system of communication that reflects our social context. Meaning language is culturally established, following our social or societal codes and traditions.
In addition, since language is shaped by our society it, directly and indirectly, reflects gender stereotypes. Which is this idea of expectations men and women should uphold because of their assigned gender at birth. As an example, historically men and women have held different social roles. Men were required or more likely to participate in tasks that needed speed, strengths, and to be gone from home for a long period of time. While women have been more likely to stay at home and direct their full-time attention to family tasks and childbearing. These activities and assumed characteristics then cause us to use words that are to link to traits that are stereotypically associated with either group (Maass & Arcuri, 1996).
Furthermore, if we were to go into the psychology of this topic our word choices directly affect our cognitive process, so the way we think. Words and phrases that are consistent with gender stereotypes have a strong influence, especially when presented at a hidden level. The reason for this is because it leads people to classify gender pronouns, words and phrases more quickly into male and female categories (Banaji & Hardin, 1996).
Common words Associated with Women:
Common words Associated with Men:
Now that we know a bit about the background and psychology of this topic, when did sexist phrases become a thing? Well as we know gender stereotypes are a common factor in our society, and when we seem to diverge from those characteristics that are supposed to be innate to us we respond with phrases that seem to keep us in check. This type of behavior in gender studies is called gender policing. Which is the enforcement of our gender norms, this in return reinforces the idea of a gender binary. The classification of gender as two opposite forms of masculinity and femininity. Below are some of the most common phrases I’ve heard, which end up doing more harm than good.
“You throw like a girl”
“Be a man”
“Don’t be such a wuss”
“You’re a girl you should know better”
“Who wears the pants”
“Grow a pair”
*Generics are characteristic of or relate to a class or group of things.
Male generics as explains by Sherryl Kleinman are words or phrases that address men directly and indirectly. Meaning while they are used to describe men and their position they are also used as the “neutral term” for both genders. For example look at the words freshman, chairman, and mankind. While they refer to both men and women the words secondhandly address one gender. Kleinman states these kinds of words reinforce “a system in which “man” in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women” and “It’s no accident that “man” is the anchor in our language and “woman” is not.” Based on the history of gender stereotypes.
One of the most popular male generics is “you guys”, while it’s used to refer to a group of boys often girls use it amongst themselves. It is also widely used when there is one boy in a group of girls. Also, rather than saying “you all” or “Y’all”, including myself, just lump the girls in with the boy. This at first seems harmless, however, after a while, it can make people feel left out especially women. For example, below, is a story Kleinman includes in her essay where she recalls a colleague’s daughter experience with the phrase “you guys”.
A colleague’s five-year-old daughter recently left her classroom crying after a teacher said, “What do you guys think?” She thought the teacher didn’t care about what she thought. When the teacher told her that of course she was included, her tears stopped. But what was the lesson? She learned that her opinion as a girl mattered only when she’s a guy. She learned that men are the norm.
In this audio clip, I interview Maria, who is an 18-year-old senior. I ask her what her experience with gender-bias and sexist language has been and the kind of impacts it has on her life. Her also Portuguese offers a different perspective on the topic. She makes interesting point regarding how she and her family use such language and the kind of change that needs to happen in order to move more towards gender-neutral language
In this audio clip, I interview Alexander. He is 13-years-old and currently in seventh grade. When deciding what o interview for my project I though Alexander would make a great person as we would offer the perspective from the younger generation regarding my topic. Also, because he identifies as a boy her would offer a different experience that from Maria when it comes to the language used.
My take on Gender-Bias and Sexist Language
Gender-Neutral Language ( Quick tips)
- When speaking or writing about an unknown person try to avoid using male pronouns such as he/him. Instead, make them plural, so use
- Try to not use words that are inherently sexist like “mankind”, and look for alternatives.
|Mankind||Humanity or Humen race|
|Waiter (m) Waitress (f)||Server|
- Most importantly, avoid using phrases that are influenced by a person gender, while some are okay with the phrases discussed above others are not. So it’s always better to be safer than sorry.
To finish off, while these are simple tips they go a long way, making small changes in the way speak and using said alternatives is what causes people to think and change their behavior.
My overall experience