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Words matter, in the way we speak in gender terms. A man is ambitious. A woman is a bitch. A powerful man's voice is deep and dignified while a woman is shrill and hysterical.
Words matter, in the way we speak in gender terms. A man is ambitious. A woman is a bitch. A powerful man’s voice is deep and dignified while a woman is shrill and hysterical.
“OMG! Stop exaggerating. Aren’t you being overly dramatic? It’s just a few words here and there. Women have more rights now than ever before. But trust you to make it so much more of an issue than it actually is.”
Yeah. I’ll come back to the above in just a little bit.
But take a look at the following words: Chairman. Fireman. Alderman. Mailman. Mankind. Sportsman. Salesman. Manpower. Businessman. Policeman. Tradesman. Manmade.
Apart from the eponymous use of ‘man’ tagged to all of the professions, or, maybe, because of it, our mindset automatically defaults to the ‘masculine’ and the assumption is that these are men doing the job. God forbid that women do the same jobs – it’s still, circa 2021, seen as more of an anomaly than the normal.
Oh, just in case it is a woman doing one of these jobs – the language makes it very clear to the readers. For example, “The fireman – who is actually a woman – showed great bravery…” or even when a gender neutral term like firefighter is used – the basic premise is always that the person putting out raging fires is a MAN and never the other way. And if it’s the latter – the explanation will follow. Like, “The firefighter, a woman…”
And the opposite is true as well. When it comes to demeaning terminology…the language is always feminine. It’s always a ‘mistress’ who breaks up a marriage while there is no masculine equivalent of the same.
Do you have ANY idea how much I had to search just to find a masculine equivalent of the derogatory terms slut or whore? Or bitch or hussy or tart? This female word is now used to describe men as well. So a dude who fucks his way across an entire town? He’s a man-whore or a male-slut. God forbid that men get their own derogatory term. Nope. That’s reserved for us women.
BTW…I finally found one word that suggests the male equivalent of slut or hussy. And dun dun dun…drumroll please…the word is fuckboy. While nowhere close to being part of the mainstream conversation yet (I had to go down a Reddit rabbit hole to find this term) I will do my part in describing men who sleep around indiscriminately as fuckboys in the future.
If a woman is unmarried, especially an older unmarried woman? She’s an unattractive spinster.
If the guy is unmarried? He’s Leonardo Di Caprio. He’s a stud. He’s a rockstar. He’s a dude. He’s a player.
A man is ambitious. A woman is a bitch. A powerful man’s voice is deep and dignified while a woman is shrill and hysterical.
Singer/ songwriter Taylor Swift said it perfectly in this tweet. “There’s a different vocabulary for men and women in the music industry. A man does something – it’s strategic. A woman does the same thing – it’s calculated. A man is allowed to react. A woman can only overreact.”
When a game of basketball is written or spoken about – the natural expectation is that it refers to men playing the sport. So, it’s the generic NBA or National Basketball Association which refers to men playing basketball but it’s the WNBA for when women play the same sport. We have to specify.
In an ideal and just world it would be the MNBA and WNBA. Instead – it’s the NBA and WNBA.
But then…our world is anything but just. What’s scary AF is how much these words have been normalized by our world. These gender markers that spread gender discrimination is still widespread.
I still remember this classroom of mine in the US where one of my students was an older man (compared to the 18 and 19-year-olds sophomore kids who formed the majority of the class pool). He was over 40 and he had just retired from the army, and had come back to get his degree in Political Science. One of the topics under discussion in my class that day was how our day-to-day use of the English language perpetuates gender stereotypes, and which in turn, influences how we speak, even casually, without meaning anything wrong.
Like the afore-mentioned words like salesman, tradesman etc.
I encouraged the kids in my class to start using gender neutral language and use gender neutral words like chairperson or salesperson instead of chairman or salesman. It makes a difference in how you perceive the genders if you use gender neutral language as part of your vocabulary, I told them. That’s when you won’t automatically visualize a woman when you think of a secretary or a man when you think of a chairperson. Which in turn propagates the myth that a woman is only fit to play a supporting role to a man as opposed to a man who is typically the decision maker.
The older student spent the entire class period rolling his eyes at me. When I finally called him out his response was to simply shrug his shoulders and say, “OMG! Stop exaggerating. Aren’t you being overly dramatic? It’s just a few words here and there. Women have more rights now than ever before. But trust you to make it so much more of an issue than it actually is.”
I tried to explain to him that – yes – women do have more rights now than ever before. And don’t do us any f…ing favors for the same, jerk. Just because it’s better doesn’t mean it’s equal.
I didn’t say it in quite those words – obviously. But I tried explaining why correct use of words is key. His response was to continue smirking at me.
I’m reasonably sure that the guy was not a misogynistic asshole but yes – his mindset was so deeply entrenched in the traditional modes of language that it was hard to get him out of what he clearly thought was feminists getting needlessly all hysterical about something as simple as words.
But words have so much power. And words can hurt. And, unfortunately, his attitude is more the norm than an exception.
His attitude was/is casual. It’s everyday. And it’s wrong.
Image source: a still from the film Arjun Reddy
Hi...I'm Roopa. I'm also a messy optimist! I'm an academic-cum-artist. I'm a writer, filmmaker and professor of creative writing. Academically, I've a Double Masters and a Phd read more...
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