Gender & Language

How we speak and the language we use matters.
What are the subtle or transparent hegemonic themes you are enabling or engaging with when you chose to speak about a woman or man in a particular way?
What are the links to how you speak and how it is accepted or resisted?
 Are you engaging with how that links to emotional, physical, sexual, financial and legislative abuse of another because of gender?
Where is your  gender related behaviour motivated from? Love, fear, power or equality.Are you acknowledging the advantages you have because of where you are born, income, race, gender and belief system and what that enables in your life for no other reason than luck?Have you considered you live a privileged life because of those factors, that perhaps you do not see the huge inequities and power imbalances around you because you are protected from them?
Many aspects of language and everyday life have a latent gender bias. Stating this is not about blame but engaging with reality and deciding how we can act to address these inequalities from a place of acknowledgment and compassion.

These questions have been circulating around my brain: partly because I have been living in the developing world for nearly a year where gender disparities can be a little more blatant. But also because it feels that many do not engage with the intrinsic privilege that comes from the gender they are born into.  It is an assumed privilege, one that is not earned on merit, but by genetic chance.

This privilege is real and blatant, and also, in the developed world, subtle and underhand in articulation. As determined by gender, we engage in very real and different sets of expectations which affect access, power, agency and life quality.

This is illustrated through victim blaming, legislation, language that is gender assigned and has stronger negative connotations because of it, through how one can express one’s power or maturity, the standards you are expected to meet, your value in the market place (  Gender pay gaps are again increasing across the developed world – and up to 48 percent in Australia if you work in the health and community services sector) and influences expectations around appearance, career, how you behave, expressions of sexuality etc. Gender affects every aspect of existence.

And let’s be real here, the issue isn’t gender, its women.

Women  DO Not have real equality anywhere on this planet. Some places may be better than others but a true equality  does not exist when  by being born female you are engaged with from a hegemonic “women and other minorities” framework. Where our bodies are legislated against so we are unable by law to make decisions that affect every aspect our lives without it potentially being a criminal act. Where women who are successful are systematically targeted by the main stream media and their femaleness is targeted rather than their actions.

All of these things are connected to language, how power structures developed and predominantly male run speak, how men and women talk about each other, how dialogue around gender issues occurs and what the reaction points are.

Consider your language around gender – it is important – and is indicative of power and respect, love and fear. How you speak is how you think and that is indicative of everything when it comes to how your gender plays out in the world and how you live because of it.

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7 thoughts on “Gender & Language

  1. “the issue isn’t gender, its women” I’ve always kinda argued the reverse, as “women” as a group/category/label within the binary gender structure is somewhat arbitrary and inflexible… the question is always: who are these women? within “women” there are huge divides, and statements “women earn x percent less than men on average” doesn’t reflect the actual issue at hand for me… Of course gender as a concept has its limits in order to further awareness, but does allow for a deeper reflection: in the end the reason why women would earn less than men, is their gender, and how that plays out in society.

    • I totally hear what you are saying but I was speaking to the general situation. And gender discrimination is predominantly about sexism against women, it is their femaleness that plays against them. Gender is a less emotive word, it’s soft, and the impact of the discrimination can be lessened with is usage. The UN won’t use the term women in regards to discrimination based on that aspect because it makes them look bad, gender is an easier term to use and distancing. ( If I find the link to the story I’ll post it) There is a distancing from actual real women experiencing the discrimination, violence, legislation, hatred etc. And women as a term does include those who chose to be women and those who feel they are women but born into the wrong body – why wouldn’t it?

      Over all though if we believe there is discrimination who give a monkey’s if we use the term woman or gender? We know it applies to the same issue and can use either term, but personally I feel using the term women with the word gender is far more powerful and effective. And at at the root surely the problem is inequity and discrimination and that should be our focus?

  2. Gendered language is so much instilled in us (mankind, “he” as the default personal pronoun etc.), but I try to make a tiny difference. If I am talking about a professional non-specifically, such as doctor, judge, lawyer, or a company position such as CEO, boss or supervisor, I often say “she” as a default instead of “he”. It’s bemusing to me that this sometimes confuses people. Instead of “him and her”, I say “her and him”. In the street near the courts in the Melbourne CBD the other day, I heard two male lawyers talking, and it went like this: “So, if a judge didn’t have confidence in a jury, he could…”, and I realised little has changed.
    On the other hand, men who are in jobs traditionally associated with women also suffer discrimination. The most obvious is nursing. I stopped using the term “male nurse” many years ago when someone pointed out to me it was a bit like saying “lady doctor”. Yet I still hear that awful term today: “What job does he do?” “Oh, he’s a male nurse”. It seems almost impossible to stop people making gendered assumptions about work, even if in practice it’s not the same any more.
    The other day I read that a university study had shown that most people still think of housework as “women’s work”: yet in my situation, my husband does more housework than I do and my cleaner is a male.
    My dad and grandad always shared the domestic duties with my mum and grandmother respectively. I once made a peg bag apron for my dad to hang the washing out with. I remember when I was a child in the 1970s, my grandad, who had been a career army officer, sewed new covers for their lounge suite. He sewed these on a very old treadle machine, and cut the pattern himself too. When I left home, I was amazed to discover that this sort of thing was quite unusual.

    • I’d never even notice that before, Carol. I suppose it’s just what we are conditioned to. Here in Nepal, cleaning the house is only for women, unless of course the man is living alone, like a student away from home etc.

      • Yes, it’s interesting that we naturally always put the male first. Another one is “Mr and Mrs” or “Mr and Ms”. It sounds odd at first to say “Ms and Mr”. On just about every rental, mortgage agreement etc that I’ve ever done with a man, his name and signature is always put first.

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