Essay by students on how language can be sexist

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One of the most important political and social movements of the twentieth century has been the drive towards achieving complete equality for all people regardless of race, colour, class, gender identity, mental state or physical impairment. One area that has remained resistant to change is language. Some claim that the use of "politically correct" terms is not only unnecessary but disempowering Jernigan because it forces a group of people to refer to themselves by a term that was invented by people who are not of their group.

This essay will examine some of the different kinds of linguistic sexism in the English language, some of the reasons why these forms of language are harmful and finally some ideas of how these forms of language can be changed for the better. As stated above the most obvious example of sexist language is the use of the male pronoun to describe groups of people containing both males and females.

For example in the statement "if a child wants to buy some chocolate then he will need some money" the ungendered term "child" is replaced with the gendered pronoun "he" in the latter half of the sentence. On a very basic level this is clearly simply inaccurate since roughly half of the children in the world are female. However the consequences of such usages might go well beyond a simple inaccuracy of language. Graham in Thorne, Kramarae and Henley , conducted a computer analysis of one hundred thousand words from children's schoolbooks and found that "male pronouns outnumbered female ones by almost four to one.

What this suggests is that not only are male pronouns used as generics, as would be expected, but also that writers tend to write about males more often than females. It is not far-fetched at all to suppose that part of the reason for this phenomenon is the prominence of the male pronoun.

Sexism In Language Essay

Once again this is a very obvious objection but the repercussions are larger than one would think. Thorne et al points out another kind of linguistic sexism that more even clearly demonstrates the social disempowerment of women in the English language. This is the tendency to refer to women in terms of their relations to men.

Deborah Cameron found an even more extreme example of this form of sexism in an article written for the Sun newspaper. The article speaks of how "a terrified stone husband was forced to lie next his wife as two men raped her" Cameron , Here the crime seems to exist only from the perspective of the husband. The rape that was committed against his wife is only a crime because he was forced to endure it. As if she were a valuable possession that was being damaged before his eyes. It is quite obvious that inequalities do exist in the English language.

But some remain unconvinced that this is really a bad thing.

Textbooks not to blame

There are many arguments as to why linguistic sexism is bad. In this sense what is important about sexist language is that people are genuinely hurt by the usage of sexist terms and society should attempt to change in order to make them feel better. Neither of those two arguments is particularly compelling. The problem with these two views of the nature of linguistic sexism is that both of them unknowingly imply that the problem could be solved far more easily by simply returning women to the state of ignorance that they experienced in centuries past.

However it does serve to illustrate that there is an important aspect of sexist language that is being ignored by Escala and Valian and others who think as they do. Quite simply put they are ignoring the power relations implicit in the language use and their consequences.

Unfortunately an examination of the realities of legal distinctions between men and women has shown this to simply be false. Clearly social realities play a very important role.

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The social reality is that the problem with pronouns is much deeper than merely that of the male pronouns being used exclusively. A study performed in Finegan and Besnier discovered that the female pronouns were actually being used in ambiguous situations but only with regards to roles that had low social status.

For example doctors, lawyers and politicians were generally given the male pronoun whereas secretaries, nurses and teachers were generally given the female pronoun. In light of this it becomes clear that the relationship between linguistic inequality and social reality is very real and very close.

There is clearly a link between language and reality but the question of the nature of this relationship remains. Fasold in Pauwels claimed that the relationship between language and reality is that language merely reflects the reality. In other words sexist language exists because of the sexist nature of society and thus changing the language will serve only to mask the underlying inequalities in the society. Whorf in Pauwels believes that the exact opposite is true: Societal reality is directly created by the nature of the language with the society.

According to this view as soon as the language is changed it will immediately begin to metamorphose the society into one that more accurately reflects the language. A far more compelling point of view is that while there is an interaction between the social and the linguistic this interaction his bi-directional and dynamic. The language does not create the society and the society does not create the language rather the two work together to both construct themselves and the other. Sometimes the brute force of reality has more influence as in chemistry and mathematics and sometimes the language has the casting vote as in amorphous topics like Psychology and Linguistics.

There is, in a sense, a metaphorical pendulum of interaction that swings between the linguistic and the social. Every time it swings it takes some of the meaning from the language and deposits it on the society and vice versa. This is the interactionist or social constructionist view Shotter, and Gergen, While it is galling to note such a blatant example of sexism becoming so entrenched in our language this example is ultimately positive: after all if a word can be intentionally promoted to the point where they use of another word seems instinctively incorrect then surely it can be changed back again.

The most important question that remains is how the language should be changed. Pauwels promotes several strategies for changing sexist language she calls these: "Causing linguistic disruption", "Creating a woman-centred language", "gender neutralization" and "feminisation". These four approaches are very interesting and definitely require investigation.

What Pauwels means by "causing linguistic disruption" is simply calling attention to the inequalities in the language.

Gender-biased language a common classroom problem

Free Essay: Language refers to the method that humans use to communicate either through However, how can one tell if a movie is too racist, sexist, classist. Sep 27, In this short essay, I will describe exactly why it is I have come to this conclusion. So does this mean that the English language is being sexist in the . Hey there - great article, as a language student at University I found it.

By writing articles or novels or simply by talking to people about these issues one can raise awareness. This strategy is particularly effective in languages like French where all nouns are gendered. By writing articles in French in which all the nouns have been assigned a feminine gender writers can call attention to the arbitrariness of such rules. Other strategies include rewriting popular sexist jokes and phrases with the genders reversed to make the subtle sexisms stand out more.


We can only assume that sexist writing has been around as long as cuneiform writing 4th millennium BC. Goodwill Impairment Essay. Loading: Checking Spelling. In the short essay, Sexism in English: Embodiment and Language by Allen Pace Nilsen, females were not considered as strong as males, and therefore they were giving a weak role in the society. It forms a word with meaning and category distinct from that of its base through the addition of an affix.

Furthermore it holds that since language has been male-dominated from the start there simply are not structures available to facilitate accurate expression of these differences of being. Women in society have complained about unfairness toward their gender in many parts of the social arena, including job opportunities, career advancement, legal proceedings, right to equal representation, and sexual discrimination in general. Those fighting to correct these wrongs argue that sexist language perpetuates the problems they are striving to eradicate.

By using a male specific pronoun to refer to both men and women generally, women argue that those who hear or read what is said or written think first of males, pulling males to the forefront of their minds and keeping women in their historically established place of inferiority. The difficulty that many feminists encounter is that the sexism in language that they want to change is a direct result of unfair sexist behavior toward women.

In , a study at Spaulding University in Louisville, Kentucky, groups of students were asked to evaluate sentences with language considered sexist toward women, while others were Sexism In Language. In WriteWork. WriteWork contributors.