Sunday, January 30, 2011
some thoughts on gender and language
Of course, gender isn't really a simple binary. But just in terms of language, there's no real feminine analogue to the word "guy." Think about it:
"male" and "female"
"man" and "woman"
"boy" and "girl"
It seems like a little thing, but there are implications to this. Because "guy" is used so often in American English, we end up needing a word that doesn't exist to refer to women-identified people in a playful, informal way. And rather than round up to "woman," we round down to "girl." Like "guys on the right, girls on the left" or "this party was all guys and just three girls." Grown women are referred to by a word that is infantilizing or at least condescending. All the time.
Similarly, most people address mixed gender groups like "hey guys," or "what do you guys think about..." and all that. Because these kinds of English pronouns are gendered, there's no easy way to address mixed gender groups, unless you rearrange your sentence, something that takes some thought. For most people, it's just easier to say "hey you guys" instead of "hey you all" or "hey everyone" or something that might be 10% more awkward syntactically. Again, this has implications. It implicitly says that the "default" for a human being is male, which is troubling.
In both instances, women (not to mention people who identify as anything other than male) get the short end of the stick; they're either made smaller or made invisible. And this way of speaking is extremely normalized
Language is powerful. While both of these examples may seem pretty innocent to many people, I do believe that they impact how our world functions. And fixing them-- saying "woman" instead of "girl" and addressing mixed-gender groups by a non-gendered pronoun-- isn't really THAT difficult. It's actually pretty easy. It just takes some thought and intentionality. I'm going to challenge myself to remember this. Hopefully you will too.
Any thoughts or disagreements or additions?