|Sexism is a political issue today. It affects the language we choose to use. Many people speaking or writing English today wish to avoid using language which supports unfair or untrue attitudes to a particular sex, usually women.|
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon he uttered a memorable sentence: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." If he had landed on the moon in the mid-'90s no doubt he would have said a much more politically correct sentence: "That's one small step for a person, one giant leap for humankind." Less poetic but certainly more literally representative of the whole of the human race!
Certain language can help to reinforce the idea of male superiority and female inferiority. What is now termed "sexist" language often suggests an inherent male dominance and superiority in many fields of life. Male pronouns, he, his and him are used automatically even though the sex of the person is not known. "A student may wish to ask his tutor about his course". Or we say, "Who's manning the office today?"
At work there is a tendency to associate certain jobs with men or women. For example, "A director must be committed to the well-being of his company." but "A nurse is expected to show her devotion by working long hours." In addition, job names often include reference to the sex of the person: "We're employing some new workmen on the project." "I'm talking to a group of businessmen next Friday." "The chairman cannot vote." "He is a male nurse" "I have a woman doctor." The use of such words tends to reinforce the idea that it is not normal for women to be in professional, highly-paid, technical and manual jobs. Also, that it is not natural for a man to work in such a caring (and generally poorly-paid) role as that of a nurse.
So how can this bias in the language be reduced? Look at the box below for some suggestions:
Over the last few years, changes in the role of women - and men - in society have made much sexist language out -of-date. Native speakers of English are slowly adjusting to the pressures for a more neutral language. Fortunately, this change is being accompanied by a measure of humour, which, fortunately, is common to both sexes!
Reading for meaningWhen you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.
Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings: