Gender Bias In Language Essay

1233 words - 5 pages

As a society evolves and changes, its language mutates and conforms to changing needs. Words form to define new things, archaic terms drop from use, and meanings change as different usages develop. The English language is grammatically neutral in classifying objects by sex. It is unusual among Indo-European languages in that it does not impose gender on inanimate objects. One might think that freedom from arbitrarily enforced gender would provide a clear and impartial palette for blending mere words into meaningful communication, to the contentment of all. One would be wrong. Perhaps he would be mistaken. Possibly, she would be erroneous. Perchance, they would be wide of the mark. The dilemma of gender-bias appeared in the nineteenth century and is inseparable from the social activism of the period.
Beginning in the nineteenth century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, western civilization began the slow march toward egalitarianism, and the language amiably conformed. Women gained access to a wider variety of educational and vocational opportunities and have since progressively entered an expanding variety of nontraditional roles in society. One natural result of knowledge is clarity. As the state of oppression became clear, womankind began a campaign to end gender discrimination, in word as well as action. Feminism, coined in 1851 gave the movement for women’s equality a name. The continually multiplying list of vocations of positions in business, and politics profoundly affected interpersonal vernacular. Customary references to women began acquiring less desirable connotations. Lady and madam, for example, long used as honorific titles or to describe a woman of high birth or particularly good manners, became synonymous with prostitution. Dissatisfied with inequality in parlance, the Women’s Rights movement set out to eliminate gender-bias. Definitions of gender-bias and gender neutrality are equal to the number of experts on the topic. Mary Vetterling-Braggins zealously defines gender-bias as any language whose "Use creates, constitutes, promotes, or exploits an unfair or irrelevant distinction between the sexes" (3). A simpler and more hospitable definition is found at the very edge of credibility. Defying the conventions of modern research, Wikipedia defines gender neutrality as a language pattern that attempts to eliminate gender specific terms that support sexist stereotypes and imply that certain sexes are better suited to particular jobs than the other (Gender Neutrality). Examples of gender-bias include words like, mailman and housewife, considered sexist for excluding the alternate gender. Postal worker and homemaker are suggested replacements, due to their inclusiveness. The movements influence swelled in the early twentieth century. In a 1938 newspaper column, contemporary etiquette authority, Emily Post, shows an example of the change when she advises that in a business setting, the terms, client, or customer, preferable...

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