Sexism in Language
Lets begin by defining the word sexism: “Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex”. So, as we can see from the definition, even though sexist attitudes can be directed towards both a male person and a female person, they are usually inflicted upon the female gender. Sexist language, therefore, refers to a certain way of using the language in favor of a specific sex, thus discriminating the other one.
But, during this composition we are going to analyze how sexist language is, as we mentioned before, usually directed towards women. We are also going to analyze a bit further on how people react towards this kind of language and how we can avoid using it. Still in our present, men are considered the form of the human species.
The word “men” or “man” if often used to refer to all humans’ characteristics, ways of thinking and actions. We can see some examples of this in famous phrases such as Neil Armstrong’s first words when he stepped on the moon: That’s one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind” Or phrases like: “Man has always been driven by his desire for happiness” So, even if these expressions may not be trying to discriminate women, they still show us that our society’s views on mankind usually take the male form as the representative for our actions and ideas. We could then argue that the existence of sexist language is due to the existence of sexism in society.
If we go back a few centuries, or even just a few years from today, and analyze the attitudes and points of view society had towards women, we will see that a “sexist” attitude has almost always been present throughout history in our society. Even less than a hundred years ago, women were not even allowed to vote. It would seem then, that sexist language derives itself from the social problem that is sexism. There are many examples in the English language which show us the biased orientation towards male social superiority.
A study conducted in regions of the United Kingdom and Switzerland (Sarrasin, Gabriel, Gygax,) showed that while some countries and regions are increasingly adopting more positive attitudes towards the use of gender-neutral language, there are still many places where this kind of gender neutrality is rejected. Many students in the United Kingdom for example, have every time more positive attitudes towards the use of this kind of language, but this is in contrast with the students in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, who are not so open to this type of use of the language.
An interesting thing about these studies is the fact that people’s attitudes towards gender-neutral language, is at least partly based on their general attitude towards women in society. This means that the language people use to express gender neutrality in their speech derives from the respect and desire for equality inside our society, which brings us back to what we were talking about at the beginning of the essay. Sexism in language is explicitly related to the kind of opinions and sexist attitudes that society has adopted since the very beginnings of the human civilization.
Conclusion At the end of the day, it seems to me that the problem of sexist language will always be a reflection on the even larger problem that is sexism. Our attitudes towards women will always be reflecting in our language, and that is why we need to keep changing the social standards for this. One important thing we must have in account, is the fact that it is impossible to tackle sexist language as an isolated issue. Just because we change our way of speaking or writing doesn’t mean that society will stop hiring almost only women for a position as “secretary”.