Women and Language: Is English biased against us?

This is an informative post.

Being a linguistics student and a wordsmith, I tend to give most of my attention to lexicon; how people talk, the words they choose, their tone, their auxiliary verbs, their dialects, their adjectives, their lack of adjectives and so forth. It fascinates me and opens up my eyes to a better understanding of this world. Really, it does. I believe in linguistic relativity in very limited forms; Perhaps, in a vise versa sort of way where we, as a society, influence language.

Hint: Linguistic relativity is a theory developed by Benjamin Lee Whorf. It basically means language affects the way its speakers think and behave. The theory, however, was well in mind of thinkers and scholars of the 19th century.

Now, English as a language favors males. It is biased against women. Not the language itself but the language we structured, the terms we coined, the behaviors and connotations we gave to it. Let me first give you a brief outline on women dialects.

Robin Lakoff, a linguist, developed several theories on genderlects. She proposed that women speak differently from men. Now, some of those models she proposed are quite interesting because I myself, as a female, do them as opposed to the males I know. Even when media addresses women, they tend to use different tactics and lexicon to seek their attention. Here are a few:

  1. Color terminology: If we took two magazines: One aimed at women, and the other at men, we’d notice that when it comes to colors, female magazines are apt to use more variety in colors. So blue isn’t just blue, it becomes teal, iris, periwinkle, azure, and turquoise. However, in male magazines, blue is just blue.
  2. Empty Adjectives: Females are more apt to use those, males not so much so. For instance, pretty in female terms becomes: gorgeous, stunning, elegant, dazzling, cute, and whatnot. In male terminology, however, pretty is just pretty.
  3. Tag Questions: Women tend to seek conformation more via questions, so for instance, a lady would say, “I look good in this dress, don’t I?” or, “you think I’m crazy about you, don’t you?”
  4. Indirect requests: Although Lakoff’s theory involves what women tend to say more, I do believe men do this often as well. These would be something like, ‘I am thirsty,’ or ‘its cold’ or ‘I’ve been feeling down lately,’ in lieu of asking for water, a jacket, or a hug.

She also proposed that women tend to be more grammatically cautious than men and are less apt to use weak expletives. A student of hers later on developed genderlex, meaning basically men and women speak differently. And we do, to a great extent.

Then again, language is what we make it, right? When some terms come to mind, they don’t sound right. We live in a society that subtly favors men. If we take, for instance, words describing men vs. words describing women, we’d really notice how awful the situation is.

Have you ever heard the term family woman? I did not. But family man is something more common. Ironically, when googling family woman definition the top result was Wikipedia’s domestic violence page with no definitions, and when I did the same thing with family men definition all I got was definitions.

Then again, career woman is there. Ever heard someone introducing a guy to you and saying, ‘he’s a career man’? Obliviously both terms exist, but when speaking of a spinster people tend to shame her for being a career woman, whereas a bachelor with a career is considered someone ‘too good to be true.’ I am aware that bachelorette is there as well, but there should be equality in terminology as age progresses. There are dozens of those, I am extremely disturbed by the fact that we let such minuet differences slip by. I am not being picky at all. I am being observant, and I do not like what I see.

All in all, I believe a society that dominates men is bound to have a language that supports it. I wrote this post hoping to cover Arabic language biases against women. That is, however, proven to be difficult due to dialects. But my interest in genderlects will hopefully drive me to write another post on why we’re in the 21st century and women are still fighting for their rights in the Middle East. Here’s a tip: Always start with language.

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