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SEXIST LANGUAGE, A PROBLEM OF INEQUALITY?

Despite decades of feminist consciousness, sexist language still exists in our culture. Gender-specific titles and pronouns can somehow influence sexism, as well as our thoughts and expectations about gender roles and appropriate occupations for the sexes.

Gendered words and phrases like “you guys” may seem small compared to issues like violence against women, but changing our language is an easy way to begin overcoming gender inequality.

Sexist language is a language that excludes one sex, especially feminine, when discussing a topic that is applicable to both sexes. This includes words that use the male sex to refer to women and men in general. E.g. Each student chose his own topic for his term paper,” leads the reader to assume that all the students in the class were male, despite the probability that half of them were female.

Male generics refer to people occupying a position or role such as fireman, policeman, congressman or expressions such as ‘guys’ or ‘oh, man’. Why don’t we say firewoman or policewoman or congresswoman? These kind of words might reinforce the gender inequality.

This is not a big deal for most people, maybe because they are used to this sexism and they don’t even notice it when they speak. What if we change the word man for white? What if instead of saying fireman, we say firewhite or congresswhite? Or the expression ‘you whiteys’ instead of ‘you guys’? Douglas Hofstadter, a philosopher, wrote a parody of sexist language by making an analogy with race. Would you think it would be racist to use the word white for some occupations and expressions? If so, isn’t it sexist to use the word man?

I am not saying that people who don’t care about this have bad intentions, are sexists, or something like that. Simply that those words reinforce the message that men are the standard and women have a lower social status. I consider they should be recognised linguistically as well.

 

 

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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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