Gender Issues in Languages
The chapter “Language and Gender” that I have read explains how language can be used to discriminate against individuals and groups on the basis of their sex. This chapter also provides some helpful information, which certainly will help us teachers to recognise and avoid discriminatory practices.
Using non-discriminatory language does not involve the conscious learning of a new language in order to communicate; this is due to the fact that people continually learn new words, expressions and constructions. Language is dynamic and reflects changes in society and contributes to such changes. Using non-discriminatory language is, of course, a part of this dynamic process.
Broadly speaking, in most cases, using non-discriminatory language means avoiding certain expressions and selecting others that already exist in the language. Sometimes it may involve combining existing words into a new compound word. Only in exceptional cases a completely new word or expression has to be “created”.
Sexist language is language that favours one sex and treats the other sex in a discriminatory manner. In many cases it favours men and goes against women. In language, men are considered the “rule” for the human species, that is to say, their characteristics, thoughts, beliefs and actions are seen as representing those of all humans, male and female. This practice can make women imperceptible in language or exclude them. The linguistic status of women often depends on the status of men. Being women in a dependent, subordinate position, sexist language prevents women and men from being shown as equal human beings.
Common forms of sexism in English include the use of “man” and “he / him / his” as generics—that is to say, nouns and pronouns referring to both men and women—the use of suffixes -man, -ette, -ess, -trix in occupational nouns and job titles, asymmetrical naming practices, and stereotyped images of women and men as well as descriptions of (mainly) women which denigrate them and their status. It is recommended that women should be more evident and visible in language by avoiding the use of “male-oriented” words in the generic sense.
man (generic sense) humans, human race, human beings, human
species, humanity, humankind
women and men, person(s), man and
woman, individual(s), people(s), etc.
English does not possess a third person singular pronoun which is gender-neutral. Instead the “masculine” pronouns “he”, “him” and “his” are generally used to refer to both men and women. This is confusing and inaccurate and makes women invisible. There are many ways of replacing the “he / him / his” pronouns without distorting the message or compromising style or readability. Here are some major strategies:
– recast the sentence in the plural
– leave out the pronoun
– repeat the noun
– use 'he or she', 'she or he' or in writing 's/he'
– recast the sentence and use another pronoun, for example, 'you', 'I' or 'we'
– recast the sentence to avoid pronouns
In speech it is common practice (however, considered ungrammatical) to use the pronoun “they” as in: “If a student wants to get a practice test, they should come to my office between 2 and 4 p.m. today”.
Occupational nouns and job titles ending in -man reduce the presence of women in such professions and positions. There are various strategies for replacing -man compounds. For example, the use of an existing gender-neutral term (police officer instead of policeman), or of the -person alternative (layperson instead of layman) or the explicit naming of both sexes (sportsmen and women instead of sportsmen) are some of the possibilities. It is, of course, acceptable to use the -man compound to refer to a man occupying the position if a woman in such a position is referred to by a -woman compound (spokeswoman for a woman and spokesman for a man). However, the practice of referring to a man by means of the –man compound and to a woman by means of the -person compound is discriminatory. Here is a list of the most frequently used alternatives: the alternatives marked [S] are gender-specific.
businessman business executive, business manager, business owner, business person,
entrepreneur, financier, investor, proprietor
[S] businesswoman, businessman, businessmen business community, business people,
[S] businessmen and businesswomen
cattleman cattle breeder, cattle owner, cattle producer, cattle raiser, cattle worker, farmer
chairman the chair, chairperson, convener, coordinator, discussion leader, head (of) … ,
leader, moderator, person chairing a meeting, person in the chair, president,
[S] layman, laywoman
laymen laypeople, laypersons, lay community, laity
milkman milkdeliverer, milk supplier, 'milko' (informal)
policeman member of the police, police officer (term indicating rank)
[S] policewoman, policeman
postman letter carrier, mail carrier, mail deliverer, postal delivery officer, postal worker,
[S] postwoman, postman
salesman sales agent, sales associate, sales attendant, salesperson, sales representative,
salesworker, shop assistant, shop attendant
[S] salesman, saleswoman (not saleslady or sales girl)
spokesman (principal) advocate, offical, representative, (person) speaking on behalf of … ,.speaker, spokesperson
[S] spokesman, spokeswoman
sportsman athlete, player, sports competitor, sportsperson
[S] sportswoman, sportsman
Do not use weathergirl if the forecaster is a woman.
workman worker, employee, working person
Occupational nouns and job titles, which refer exclusively to women, should also be avoided. Often these have been derived from male job titles by adding such suffixes as -ette, -ess and -trix. This practice reinforces the view that women's status is dependent on, or derived from, that of men. Job titles like “girl friday” and “salesgirl” trivialise the work women do.
cleaning lady / woman cleaner (house cleaner, office cleaner)
camera girl camera operator (see also 'cameraman' for other alternatives)
career girl professional, executive (or be specific about the profession)
matron (nursing) director of nursing
Women should be shown as participating equally with men. Generic terms, for example “doctor”, “lawyer” and “nurse”, should be assumed to apply equally to a man and a woman. Expressions such as “male nurse”, “woman doctor”, “lady lawyer” and “woman reporter” should therefore be avoided in contexts where the reference to a person's sex is irrelevant. If gender specification is necessary, the use of the adjectives “female” and “male” before the gender-neutral noun is preferred.
Naming practices for women and men are often asymmetrical. Inequality is implied, for instance, in cases where a woman's title is not mentioned but a man's is; where a woman is addressed simply by her first name but a man is addressed by his title, first name and surname; and in some salutations, directed to a man and a woman, when the woman is not addressed. Other practices also can create the impression that women deserve less respect or less serious consideration than men do, such as when endearments are used to address women in situations that do not justify such words.
“Mr”, “Ms”, “Mrs”, “Miss”
Use of the title “Mr” before a person's name identifies that person as a male adult. The titles “Mrs” and “Miss”, however, not only identify the person addressed as a woman but also make known her marital status. The title “Ms” was introduced so that a woman is not required to reveal her marital status and so that people writing to or addressing a woman are not required to guess it by using “Miss” or “Mrs”. “Ms” should be used for a woman whose title preference is unknown. It should be followed by the woman's own name, or if she prefers, her spouse's name. Any given names or initials used in connection with the title “Ms” are invariably the woman's and not those of her spouse. “Ms” is the same whether singular or plural.
Since Robin Lakoff published Language and Women's Place 1975, stereotypes about women's speech. The authoress drew up a list of features of women's speech, relating mostly to vocabulary, but also to syntactic structures. Until then, few linguistic circles had heard of the tag-question or had any idea what it was. Since then, there has been furious debate about whether women use more tag-questions than men and if so, what it means.
The following is part of the most recent list provided by Lakoff:
• Women's intonational contours display more variety than men's.
• Women use diminutives and euphemisms more than men.
• Women make more use of expressive forms (adjectives, not nouns or verbs and in that category, those expressing emotional rather than intellectual evaluation) more than men: lovely, divine.
• Women use hedges of all kinds more than men.
• Women use intonation patterns that resemble questions, indicating uncertainty or need for approval.
• Women's voices are breathier than men's.
• Women are more indirect and polite than men.
• In conversation, women are more likely to be interrupted, less likely to introduce successful topics.
• Women's communicative style tends to be collaborative rather than competitive.
• More of women's communication is expressed non verbally (by gesture and intonation) than men's.
• Women are more careful to be “correct” when they speak, using better grammar and fewer colloquialisms than men.
Currently debates have been held about most of the features mentioned above. Much work has been done on pitch, intonation, politeness and “correctness”. Sociolinguists such as William Labov have constantly suggested that women speak a form of language close to the standard than men of a similar social background. I wonder again, how should this be interpreted if it is true? Does it mean that women are linguistically more conservative than men?. This claim makes me think that further investigation should be conducted about this in order to find out whether it is a real fact or just speculation based on sexist beliefs.
There is an area that has received more attention in recent times, “communicative styles” or “strategies”. Initially research was carried out on private conversation but more recently attention has focused on women's linguistic behaviour in the workplace. Deborah Tannen has published various books on women's communicative strategies, including one based on analysing the work environment. Tannen's work has motivated some controversy among linguists. Her views can be summarised as follows: men tend to employ “contest” strategies and women “community” strategies. If we accept this dichotomy, it would provide a realistic explanation for women's lack of development in the workplace. We might deduce from this that women are too busy establishing a kind of “community” instead of climbing the social ladder by getting involved in contests, just like men, which are more successful in the world of business because of the way they are (competitive).
The American sociolinguist Labov (1966) paved the way to the study of genderlects in Western societies. Their studies consistently indicated that females used a more standard language than men did, regardless of their socioeconomic level, age, or race. Their studies were often interpreted as the result of early childhood socialization processes (Lakoff, 1975; Goodwin, 1980; Maltz & Borker, 1982; Cameron, 1992). Girls are encouraged and rewarded for using "elegant" ??? language whereas boys are allowed more flexibility in language use: "Rough talk is discouraged in little girls more strongly than in little boys, in whom parents may often find it more amusing than shocking" (Lakoff, 1975, p. 6).
Some studies that have been conducted in relation with the use of vernacular styles across genders have shown that males tend to use a more vernacular style than females. This difference has often been interpreted as a female's greater desire to conform to societal norms. Nevertheless, this interpretation may also represent a sexist view which traditionally says that women are more dependent than males. As I see it, it makes me think that this is an expression of both freedom and creative ability to modify language in which females are not allowed to participate.
Silence and talkativeness is another interesting aspect of gender-specificity in conversational strategies due to the fact that women are said to be more talkative than men. Nevertheless, this has not been proved so far, on the contrary it’s seems easy to became aware of the fact that men talk more than women in public settings and men are less involved in private talks. I think that women tend to talk more in private with female friends about topics that might often be considered “girls talk” by men. Topics that seem to be important such as sports, politics and economy have always been regarded as serious and interesting topics, while topics such as child-care and personal relationships have been labeled as trivial. This might simply be a reflection of social values which define what men do as important, and what women do as less important.
Studies conducted in gender and politeness have put forward the notion that women are necessarily always more polite than men. I argue that the relations between gender and politeness there are circumstances when women speakers might appear to be acting in a more polite way than men due to the fact that they have to stick to a stereotype of “being a woman” that has been long believed and supported by people. On the other hand, there are many circumstances where women will act just as impolitely as men. From my point of view politeness and impoliteness are just beliefs about how people interact and about those people as whole, and are not simple classifications of particular types of speech. I think people who live in community negotiate consciously or unconsciously with what they perceive to be “the rule”. Therefore, I question the way that previous research on politeness has assumed that there is relation between masculinity and impoliteness and femininity and politeness.
According to Brown and Levinson’s model individual speech acts are considered to be either polite or impolite. I believe that communities are able to identify whether speech acts are considered polite or impolite. Stereotypes of gender may play a role in the decisions that such communities make about politeness, but, nevertheless, individuals within communities may use such stereotypes strategically depending on what their goals are.
For me as a teacher, the most important outcome of the chapter I have recently read is that male and female teachers need to be aware of when they may be incorporating certain female or male stereotypes as part of a “hidden curriculum.”
There are some areas where teachers should pay special attention to avoid sexism in the classroom:
1. First, We teachers should take our time when calling on students in the classroom. This allows us to call both on boys and girls.
2. We should avoid "boys against girls" exercises or situations that "separate boys from girls."
3. We should control our classroom arrangement to make sure that both girls and boys are sitting in the front of our class.
4. We should also make ourselves sure that girls and boys get an adequate amount of assistance and attention in educational situations.
5. We should also guarantee gender equity in our class materials and other visual aids. In other words we should be able to provide students with materials that show girls and boys in "non-traditional" roles.
6. We should let students know that they are all capable of meeting their challenges.