Language is powerful. So powerful that it can play tricks on the mind. For instance, “I don’t want to be anxious anymore” can create more focus on anxiety as the word will be highlighted each time this thought crosses the mind. Whereas when one thinks as “I want to be at peace from now on,” they are actually doing the right thing. Because the mind is now working towards the word “peace” instead of “anxious.” Think about this whole process like coding. Once the brain is coded in one way, it keeps running in automatic mode in the subconscious and it runs on loops.
If we want to live in a world where we can talk about equality between men and women, we need to pay attention to our daily language as they can create obstacles for women. Out of habit, we can use a sexist language without even noticing it. Although this doesn’t seem like a big deal at first for most men, and even for some women, it makes a significant impact on one’s perception and the way of thinking. This is the reason why we need to make an effort to stay alert in this kind of language. As society, we need to avoid these language mistakes and correct them whenever we can.
The first common mistake is about the choice of the pronouns, such as picking a certain gender pronoun for a specific role only. If you are using the pronoun “He” automatically for engineers, scientists, police officers or pilots, you might want to stop that as you are completely ignoring all the women in that profession with your language. Following the same logic, when one talks about nurses, caretakers, teachers, they shouldn’t be choosing the pronoun “she” on default, either. How about using the good old ‘they’ instead? That would solve all our problems.
Another example of sexist language is the use of certain negative adjectives that are associated specifically with women. It wouldn’t be unfair to claim that some negative definitive words such as “crazy,” “overreacting,” “emotional,” are mostly used for women or who identify themselves as women, instead of men. Let’s have an experiment with you right now, right here. Try to think men equivalent of these adjectives: whiny, bitchy, sassy, slutty, hysterical, intense, gossipy, drama queen, gold digger, man-eater, bride-zilla, blonde -you know what we mean here-, career woman, helicopter mom, soccer mom, easy, tease, cougar, chatty, modest, flaky, bossy. How did you make it? Except bossy and modest, it is difficult to find men equivalents, right? When you simply type in “negative adjectives used for men” in search engines, you will get a list of words like: angry, annoying, insecure, irrational, jealous, arrogant, lazy, mean, needy, selfish, etc. which are pretty neutral and not gender-specific in nature. As obvious as it is, although hidden in the language, the inequality is right there.
There is also the problem of generalized uses of the word “man” in our daily conversations which can create an invisible obstacle on women’s minds about what they can achieve in this life. When a little girl hears about NASA’s “Manned spacecraft launch”, is it abnormal for her to think that she won’t be able to grow up to be a space engineer or astronaut because she is not a “man”? It is possible, we don’t know how psychology plays out here.
How about we turn the table the other way around? How would these terminology sound to you?
“Womankind writes history one more time” (instead of mankind)
“Womanned spacecraft launched successfully.” (instead of manned)
“That requires a lot of womanpower” (manpower)
“Those flowers are not real, they are womanmade” (manmade)
If you are a man and you just read those sentences, probably you are wondering why you were left out. That’s exactly what women have been trying to figure out for centuries.
Besides the ugly words that you hear often in the street language like “D-bag” “P—y” “Bastard” or “Mother-loving-ones” or C-word, there are also female-related insults in our everyday language such as “He throws like a girl,” “He runs like a girl,” or “He cries like a woman”. Besides, let’s not forget, when someone says “She wears the pants” or “She has balls”, they are complimenting on women by making them more man-like. How messed up is that?
Finally, let’s talk about the sexist language we use with our children. As we all know, it is such a huge responsibility to raise a human being. The way we talk to them, the way we act next to them just adds to the pile of information that they collect. Eventually, this mountain of knowledge shapes who they are going to be, like an artist working on their sculpture. In his 2017 book, “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New data,” the ex-Google expert Set Stephens-Davidowitz talks about the interesting Google search results. He thinks that the search terms that we type in when we think nobody is watching us, holds a mirror up to actually who we are. According to the data received from Google, the most frequently searched question including the word “son” is “Is my son gifted?” whereas the most commonly searched question including the word “daughter” is “Is my daughter overweight?” This analysis shows the bias that society has towards how a perfect man and woman should be: women are expected to be physically appealing and men to be smart. In order to stop this biased way of thinking, we need to start early and start from our family. While showing affection to our daughters and sons, let’s try to be fair. If your choice of endearment for your daughter are the words “princess” “pretty” or “Little Lady”, whereas you call your sons “champ,” “buddy,” or “son,” you are giving the message that you are prioritizing looks and status over personality.
In a world where we shape each other’s thoughts and thinking process every day in every way, we need to be extra careful with our word choices. It is our responsibility to create a healthy society that brings out the best in each other by acknowledging and fighting the issues like sexism and by raising amazing children with the values of equality and integrity.