How Sexist Language We Casually Use Undermines Social Position Of Women

Our language reflects our sexist, patriarchal society, with expressions casually used that we often don't even realise are problematic.

How powerful are words in influencing people’s thinking, especially against women?

What are some words/ phrases which have crept into English, the most commonly spoken language in the world to influence general thinking around women.

Here are some examples.

Step motherly treatment

A Google search will reveal how often this phrase is used in newspapers and weekly publications.

This probably originated in India, not sure of its origin elsewhere. Someone being partial to their own and treating others as low in priority.

Why is a step-mother expected to treat another’s child like her own by default? Does she have a choice in deciding to what extent she will be involved from the start? Why does she have to take blame for anything that goes wrong even if it was out of her hands? Do words like step-fatherly exist at all?

A step- mother can’t afford to be imperfect, else there are a hundred eyes on her waiting to blame her. For example – “If the mother was there, this might not have happened.”

A batchmate (male) once told me – Women are known for their bad qualities however good they may be, Men are known for their good qualities, however bad they are.

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The famous swear words- SOB, B etc.

The woman is to be blamed in both cases, popular ways to demean women. The son’s character is based on the mother’s upbringing or lineage always. Many popular novels are not devoid of these.

Lady Boss

It sounds like lady is the opposite of boss. A women in an authoritarian position, will be called lady boss, bossy lady etc.; it’s not something she ought to be or she has to bring down her “tone” so that she is more likeable.

A teacher once told me that a woman has to be 2x the worth of a man to get the same respect he gets. She will be known for her flaws than for what she does well (she has been given that position possibly for “diversity”). A male member in the same position will be appreciated for his strengths, and his weaknesses/ outbursts/ anything hard to manage from him are considered “normal” for his position, given his “pressures”. The woman will have to constantly explain her worth and prove herself, else they may say she may have “lost it”.

Taming of the shrew

A women has to be tamed/ put in her place by her husband, as suggested by the famous play. Why don’t we have words like shrewman tamed/ corrected by gentlewoman and they live happily ever after in plays/ movies…

Whine like a girl

Would anyone accept her complaining? She probably doesn’t have a choice except whine since she is always ignored and is still waiting to be heard, probably because her kind is under-represented and her problem trivialised. (Heard of women and their problems with office Air conditioners? These are real problems!)

Cry like a girl

She is too delicate to hold her unhappiness, and of course men aren’t allowed to express their unhappiness.

There are some others too which may be in certain cases acceptable like tomboy / dress like a bride/ tacky but may be also used to indicate how a woman is imperfectly groomed (under or over dressed/ not modest).

Is there any word at all which takes help of a male’s nature or character which is gender specific as adjective to describe something? Is it possible for us to ensure the next generation doesn’t get into the habit of using these gender indicative words at all? And often we may hear women using these to put down another women too… Do we really need that..

Often doesn’t this cause a women to hold back from expressing herself and her thoughts/ideas in a family or work set up… for fear of being type-casted into a familiar label..

Been meaning to pen this down for while…..thought this group will be open minded to it.

Image source: Africa Images Free for Canva Pro

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