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Be impeccable with your words


Published on

Our language is androcentric. Many common expressions are deprecating women. Even our songs convey sexist messages.
What is the impact on our self-esteem?
And what can we do about it?

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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Be impeccable with your words

  1. 1. The subliminal power of words
  2. 2. Our language is androcentric • Male is generic: mankind, manpower, manmade… • The masculine, by the presence of even one male, is the default. • "Every student in the classroom did his best on the exam." • Even greeting mixed groups
  3. 3. Masculine is universal • In our gendered language: – “Mr.” can refer to any man, regardless of whether he is single or married, but “Miss” and “Mrs.” define women by their civil status. – Women are identified as appendages both of a man and of an institution: Corporate wives, Senate wives, faculty wives – Writers sometimes refer to women using only their first names in contexts where they would typically refer to men by their full names, last names, or titles.
  4. 4. Language shapes our thinking • Culture defines reality. And language determines how we interpret it. • When the language excludes women, the mental image created also excludes women.
  5. 5. On top of it, every day, we use words and languages with a sexist connotation without even being aware of it
  6. 6. When doing something like a girl is an insult
  7. 7. When leadership skill is seen as a turn-off
  8. 8. When we engage in victim blaming • "What were you wearing?” • "How much did you have to drink?" • "Why didn't you do ____?"
  9. 9. When strong is bad
  10. 10. When we associate strength and courage with masculinity
  11. 11. When your genitals condition your courage and inner strength
  12. 12. When your genitals condition your courage and internal strength
  13. 13. When sharing emotions is not masculine enough
  14. 14. When we suppose that women are in constant competition • When two men or groups of men are debating, we call it debating, or discussion. If they yell, we call it robust, or heated. Or Parliament. • When two groups of women are debating, let’s call it debating, too. • #malegaze
  15. 15. When we “tone police” women • “I would listen to you if you were not so aggressive / angry / …” • “I will talk to you when you will have calmed down.” • Patronizing way of focusing more on the tone than the content
  16. 16. Receiving unsolicited instructions on how we should look, think and act Image credit:
  17. 17. And dismissing it all as if it did not matter
  18. 18. A woman should not be • Bossy. • Abrasive. • A ball-buster. • Aggressive. • Shrill. • Bolshy. • Intense. • Stroppy. • Forward. • Mannish. • Gossipy. • Dramatic (as in Drama Queen). • Catty. • Bitchy. • Nag. • Cold. • Ice queen. • Shrew. • Humourless. • Man-hater.
  19. 19. Defining women by their relationship to men and children • Spinster. • Barren. • She wears the pants. • Housewife. • Houseproud. • Soccer mom. • Mistress. • Kept woman.
  20. 20. GLOSSARYOFTERMS GLOSSARY OF TERMS FROM UNSPINNING THE SPIN: THE WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER GUIDE TO FAIR + ACCURATE LANGUAGE Unspinning the Spin: The Women’s Media Center Guide to Fair & Accurate Language, by Rosalie Maggio is based on research by the Women’s Media Center. Our findings show that language not only reveals or conceals reality, but creates imagery that becomes the basis for our actions and thus shapes reality itself. Unspinning the Spin is a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary guide to words and phrases—their meanings, sources, backgrounds, suggested uses, and alternatives—than has been published so far. It is a guide for journalists and editors in this and other countries, for bloggers creating their own media and government officials creating policy, for students and teachers at all levels, for activists, for workers in communication fields, and for any reader who loves the English language. Below is a selection of terms excerpted from Unspinning the Spin, the full version of which will be available for down- load from in 2012. Rosalie Maggio, the author of Unspinning the Spin, has been a well-recognized and well-read authority on language for more than 20 years. In 1991, she published The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage: A Guide to Non-Discriminatory Language that won awards from the American Library Association and the Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights. It led to her further authoritative and creative books on language. A aggressive “aggressive,” and its more negative syn- onym “pushy,” are often used disparagingly of women and Jews. Deborah Tannen (Gender and Discourse) suggests that the “stereotype of Jews as aggressive and pushy results in part from differences in conversational style.” In the lead opinion in the court case of a woman who failed to be named a partner because she was considered too aggressive, Walter Brennan wrote, “An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissible Catch-22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they don’t.” When pollster Celinda Lake asked observers to rate women and men reading the same text at identical decibel levels, the women were invariably described as louder, more aggressive, and shrill. Of a related term, Marlo Thomas says, “A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on B balls acceptable sex-specific word when it means tes- ticles. For inclusive metaphorical use, substitute with: guts, moxie, courage, nerve, bravery, self-assurance, confidence, determination, stamina, spunk. Women are occasionally congratulated with “That took balls!” or encouraged with “You have the balls for it.” For “ballbreaker/ballbuster,” meaning a difficult or com- plicated task or situation, use: gutbuster, bunbuster, tough row to hoe, killer, bad news, hell on wheels, no picnic, up a tree, hell of a note, tall/large order, tough grind/one, tough sledding, sticky business, stumper, uphill job, tight spot. In a related expression, “testicular fortitude” can be rendered sex-neutral with “intestinal fortitude.” ballsy “a term that has slipped so far from its original mooring that it can be applied to females” (Hugh Raw- son, Wicked Words). See also “balls.” bimbo from the Italian for “little boy” or “little kid,” this bitch (n.) one of the most loaded of the sexist words, “bitch” tends to be directed at women who are “ac- tive, direct, blunt, obnoxious, competent, loud-mouthed, independent, stubborn, demanding, achieving, over- whelming, lusty, strong-minded, scary, ambitious, tough, brassy, boisterous, turbulent, sprawling, strident, strid- ing, and large (physically and/or psychically)” (Mary Daly). Molly Hoben (Minnesota Women’s Press) says “Bitch—long a favorite linguistic weapon of those who yearn to put down uppity women—has become increas- ingly common.” She notes that in pre-Christian Greek and Roman religions, one of the sacred titles of the goddess Artemis-Diana was “the Great Bitch,” but like other words with once-positive connotations for women, “bitch” has become a pejorative used against strong women by those who feel threatened. Minneapolis attor- ney Rebecca Palmer says, “In the workplace setting, the label of ‘bitch’ is often accompanied by inappropriate, demeaning behavior. ... A number of courts around the country have grappled with the issue of whether, from a legal standpoint, referring to a female employee as a ‘bitch’ is defamatory or discriminatory.” In the intro- duction to Bitchfest, the editors of the outstanding pop culture magazine, Bitch, write: “‘Cause here’s the thing blonde blond. Use the shorter base word as an adjec- tive for both sexes; historically, both have been used for both sexes. The use of “blond” as a noun seems reserved for women, whereas equating a man with his hair color is uncommon. Use “blond” to modify hair rather than to describe women (i.e., “a woman with blond hair,” not “a blond”). bombshell/blonde bombshell (woman) these terms are militaristic, violent, and sexist (there is no parallel for a man); they portray women as destructive to men, even though superficially, they appear complimentary. brunette although the base (male) term is “brunet,” it is rarely used, most likely because referring to people’s hair color is largely reserved for women. Can you imag- ine calling a man “a brunet”? Question the labeling of women by facets of their appearance and the need to talk about their hair. butch (woman) usage of “butch” follows the “insider/ outsider” rule, i.e., it is acceptable for lesbians who want to use the term; it is generally unacceptable for non-lesbians to use it. C ates + Politicians rls and pudent, e term chide, ate, up- of one’s eserved cross- e neck, ranky/ out that ” which consider describing her behavior factually rather than labeling her judgmentally. (Originally, “tart” was used as an endearment, much as “honey” or “sugar” is used.) tomcat Hugh Rawson (Wicked Words) says this origi- nated from the hero’s name in a 1760 bestseller, The Life and Adventures of a Cat. In reference to a cat, use only for male cats. To mean a man who is sexually ac- tive with more than one partner, it may be clearer to describe rather than label the behavior. trophy wife introduced in Fortune magazine’s 1989 ar- ticle, “The CEO’s Second Wife,” this term describes a pat- tern among chief executives to discard longtime spouses for women typically younger, “sometimes several inches taller, beautiful and very often accomplished.” (There are so far no trophy husbands, although the “toyboy” may represent the practice stage.) WMC Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians 17 the man reported frequent headaches while the woman complained of them. congressman member of Congress, representative, congressional representative, legislator, member of the United States House of Representatives, delegate, assembly member; “congressman” and “congress- woman” if they are used fairly—and if “congressman” is not used as a false generic. “Congressperson” is not recommended, although it is seen from time to time. If “member of Congress” seems cumbersome, think of how often we have heard “member of Parliament” (nobody was ever a Parliamentman). Although “congressman” or “congresswoman” is technically a correct title for sena- tors and representatives, it is typically used to describe members of the House of Representatives; senators are always called “senator.” Failing to use a false generic fair-haired boy/fair-haired girl the favorite, the apple of someone’s eye, privileged person, someone with pull, front runner, person after one’s own heart, in one’s good graces, persona grata, teacher’s pet. “Fair-haired” is problematic because (1) making “fair” the preferred coloring is racist and ethnocentric; (2) the phrases are used of adults, which makes the boy/girl designation inappropriate; (3) “fair-haired boy” is common, while “fair-haired girl” is not. family man homebody, stay-at-home, family head, home-lover, family-oriented/family-centered/home-cen- tered person, someone devoted to the family. Note the lack of parallel for women; all women are evidently “family women.” sexism & equality don’t mix! MEDIAGUIDE to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians Media Center
  21. 21. Commenting on other people’s sexuality or sexual expression • Slut. • Trollop. • Frigid. • Easy. • Tease. • Loose. • Man-eater. • Cougar. • Asking for it. • Prude. • The town bike. • When these words are used disproportionately often against women • And when the behaviour they describe often goes unremarked in men.
  22. 22. Patronising words of praise • Career woman • Feisty. • Supermum. • Working mother. • Yummy mummy. • Caring. • Compassionate. • Hard-working. • Conscientious. • Dependable. • Diligent. • Dedicated. • Tactful. • Interpersonal. • Warm. • Helpful.
  23. 23. Celebrating women for behaviour that is unthreatening to the patriarchy • Ladylike. • Bubbly. • Vivacious. • Flirty. • Sassy. • Chatty. • Demure. • Modest.
  24. 24. Dismissing women as pawns of their hormones and physicality • Emotional. • Hysterical. • Hormonal. • Menstrual or pre-menstrual. • Flaky. • Moody. • Over-sensitive. • Clucky. • Maternal (when not about one’s own children). • Neurotic. • Irrational. • Baby brain • Baby weight.
  25. 25. And many more… • Feminazi. • Militant. • Bridezilla • Diva. • Prima donna. • Blonde • Banshee. • Fishwife. • Lippy. • Ditzy.
  26. 26. At all levels
  27. 27. In every language… • Avoir des couilles • Etre Hysterique • Elle a ses règles? • Bon père de famille • Le sexe faible • Il faut souffrir pour etre belle • Mal baisée • Elle a du coucher pour reussir • Nique ta mère • Garçon manqué • Fais pas ta pute • Tu ne vas pas te laisser battre par une fille • La menagere de moins de 50 ans • Femme au volant, mort au tournant • Derriere chaque grand homme, se cache une grande femme. • Fais pas la gonzesse • Fee du logis • Ecole maternelle • ‘Tu seras un homme, mon fils’
  28. 28. Esto es un coñazo De puta madre Hijo de putaEres una nenaza In every language…
  29. 29.
  30. 30. And with the subliminal contamination of song lyrics
  31. 31. “I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two. Do it like it hurt, like it hurt. What, you don't like work?” Robin Thicke “Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you, besides, you ain’t got nothing better to do, and I’m bored.” - Guns 'N Roses "Slut, think I won't choke no whore 'til her vocal chords don't work in her throat no more?" - Eminem "Fuck a bitch; don't tease bitch, strip tease bitch. Eat a bowl of these bitch, gobble the dick." - Dr. Dre “I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful. Damn girl who's a sexy bitch” – David Guetta
  32. 32. «J’ai envie de violer des femmes/De les forcer à m’admirer/Envie de boire toutes leurs larmes/Et de disparaître en fumée». Les villes de solitude, de Michel Sardou «Le comble enfin, misérable salope/Comme il n’restait plus rien dans le garde-manger/T’as couru sans vergogne, et pour une escalope / Te jeter dans le lit du boucher!» Brassens «Après unelongue route/ Sous la pluiequel’on redoute/ Quand les fillesnous écoutent/ C’est bon, quec’est bon/ De choisir uneminette. Dansces filles à vedette/ Qui ne sontvenues quepour ça. C’est bon de serrer dansses bras/ Une groupie, unegroupie. On les emmène en voyage/ Quand on estquede passage/ Madelon danssesbagages. C’est bon, quec’est bon/ C’est un joli parasite/ Qui s’accroche et quel’on quitte/ Quand on en connaîtun meilleur/ Ça ne reste pas dansle cœur/ Une groupie, unegroupie/ Une groupie, unegroupie». Michel Delpech
  33. 33. Which impact on us?
  34. 34. The Effects of Sexist Language • Male-dominated language reinforces sexist attitudes and behaviors. • Women are ignored, and deprecated everyday in general conversations as well as important discourse. How could this not have an effect on their status and mental states? • 7% of women in the United States are depressed which is twice the rate of depression in men (3.5%). • Depression in women often stems from gender inequality, role strain, tendency to ruminate, stress response, child birth, dietary problems, body image, and poverty • Sexualization of Girls is Linked to Common Mental Health Problems in Girls and Women: Eating Disorders, Low Self- Esteem, and Depression
  35. 35. 73/sexist-speech-stress-self-esteem/
  36. 36. How sexist speech impacts stress and self-esteem • Multiple studies suggest rude language can impair cognition. • Students who were criticized before an experiment came up with less creative uses for a brick, for instance. • The ones who were treated civilly offered inventive uses like, “hang it in a museum and call it abstract art.” • But the ones treated brusquely by the experimenter said things that were logical, but not very creative, including—no joke—“build a wall.” • We just don’t think as clearly when we’re insulted, and we also seem to like each other less. • In another study in which experimenters were rude to participants who, perhaps unwisely, were given bricks, the participants said they’d like to “smash the experimenter’s face,” “attack someone,” or “beat someone up.”
  37. 37. Take action Being mindful about your language is the easiest thing you can do
  38. 38. 5 Simple Steps to Use More Inclusive Language 1. Know your situation! Upon entering a room or a crowd note the people that are there. If you know who you are surrounded by, you are more likely to be inclusive! 2. Try to avoid referencing gender when you can. Many times gender seeps into a conversation where it is irrelevant. Ask yourself if the topic you are discussing really implicates gender, and if not just leave it out of the conversation. 3. Try using plurals to avoid using gendered pronouns. Plurals such as ‘people’ or ‘they’ are more inclusive that using ‘he’ generically or even ‘he or she’ because women are secondary here and it is drawing attention to gender when attention doesn’t need to be drawn. 4. Correct your “man” words into their more appropriate and more inclusive forms. i.e. chairman into chairperson, fireman into fire fighter, policeman into police officer, post man into postal worker etc. 5. Stop using non-heteronormative words and identities as insults. For example men calling other men girls, or pussies, or fags, or gay. This just degrades these identities or descriptions making them weak and intolerable in our society. It isn’t a bad thing to be a woman or gay so why use it as an insult?
  39. 39. sexism & equality don’t mix! MEDIAGU The Women’s Media Center The Women’s Media Center’s Media Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates and Politicians
  40. 40. WMC Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians 3 Reversibility means abandon- ing or evaluating terms or story frames of women candidates that wouldn’t be written about men. It means not citing sex with less seriousness or logical relation to content than you would cite race, class, ethnic- ity, or religion. At the simplest level, do you use “Mr. Smith” on first refer- ence, then “Smith” after that? Do you cite “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” or “Miss Smith” throughout? If you answered yes to both, you are granting Mr. Smith autonomy, but continuing to describe Ms. Smith by her marital status. If terms are almost singularly applied to women but not to men, you probably shouldn’t be using them. Sexism can also refer to the type of cover- age, often about personality, appearance, or family, that is given to women politicians but not male politicians. See the chart for some examples. Please refer to the Glossary of Terms listed from the Unspin- ning the Spin: The Women’s Media Center’s Guide to Fair & Accurate Language for more examples. Said to Women Said to Men Cunt NONE Girl / Woman Whore NONE Man Whore Bitch NONE Slut NONE Prostitute Player / Pimp Man-Eater / Aggressive Driven / Motivated High-Strung / Temperamental Powerful Too Emotional Sensitive / Caring Mean Girl / Bully Powerful / Decisive Ice Queen / Cold Hardworking / Commanding Nagging / Shrill Determined Opinionated / Uppity Knowledgeable / Passionate Hot / Sexy / MILF Handsome / Attractive Ugly / Mannish / Dyke / Lesbian NO ATTENTION GIVEN Varicose Veins / Cankles / Wrinkled Distinguished / Seasoned General Menstruation Jokes: Moody / PMSing Angry General Comments on Appearance: Plunging Neckline / Short Skirt / Oh, look, he’s wearing a red/blue High Heels / Hairstyle tie “and an American flag pin” CHART OF REVERSIBILITY FORGENDERNEUTRALITY
  41. 41. Using gender-neutral language
  42. 42. “The language we use not only reflects our culture but also constructs it,” Judith Baxter
  43. 43. Changing terms is only the tip of the iceberg but it has a “huge symbolic importance”
  44. 44. Accept compliments
  45. 45. Stop apologizing
  46. 46. Stop using shrinking language
  47. 47. In FRENCH
  48. 48. In spanish
  49. 49. Mujeres como “apéndices” de los hombres Puede que este caso no sea tan frecuente, pero ello no significa que no haya una discriminación clara a la hora de referirse al género femenino en determinadas ocasiones. Es muy común que se utilicen frases como “los trabajadores y sus mujeres” o “los embajadores y sus esposas”. La solución a este uso indebido es muy sencilla, aunque no se debe caer en el error de utilizar solamente el sustantivo mascu- lino para denominar al colectivo. Términos como “El cuerpo diplomá- tico” o “la población trabajadora” pueden ser fórmulas de éxito en estos casos. Estos son algunos ejemplos de frases que puedes usar para evitar la discriminación sexista: Expresión Alternativa Expresión Alternativa Los profesores han puesto muchos deberes a los alumnos. Los trabajadores de esa empresa. Los políticos se preparan para la campaña electoral. Los expertos recomiendan. Los usuarios están satisfechos. Si todos ponemos de nuestra parte. Nosotros dijimos lo que estábamos pensando. Los jugadores y sus mujeres. Los trabajadores y sus esposas. El profesorado ha puesto muchos deberes a los alumnos y las alumnas. La plantilla de esa empresa La clase política se prepara para la campaña electoral El personal experto recomienda Quienes utilizan este servicio están satisfechos Si cada cual pone algo de su parte. Dijimos lo que estábamos pensando. El equipo y sus parejas. La plantilla y sus acompañantes. Mujeres como “apéndices” de los hombres Puede que este caso no sea tan frecuente, pero ello no significa que no haya una discriminación clara a la hora de referirse al género femenino en determinadas ocasiones. Es muy común que se utilicen frases como “los trabajadores y sus mujeres” o “los embajadores y sus esposas”. La solución a este uso indebido es muy sencilla, aunque no se debe caer en el error de utilizar solamente el sustantivo mascu- lino para denominar al colectivo. Términos como “El cuerpo diplomá- tico” o “la población trabajadora” pueden ser fórmulas de éxito en estos casos. Estos son algunos ejemplos de frases que puedes usar para evitar la discriminación sexista: Tratamientos En el anterior apartado te hablábamos del uso sexista de las deno- minaciones a la hora de dirigirse a alguien con cortesía. Seguro que alguna vez habrás escuchado eso de “señorita”, que se refiere a una mujer soltera o que todavía no ha contraído matrimonio. Hacer esta distinción entre “señora” y “señorita” no es más que otra forma de discriminación sexista, ya que a un hombre no se le pide una expli- cación en este sentido, por eso debemos eliminar el segundo uso para equipararlo al tratamiento masculino. Te explicamos algunas propues- tas sobre cómo evitarlo: Expresión Alternativa Nosotros dijimos lo que estábamos pensando. Los jugadores y sus mujeres. Los trabajadores y sus esposas. Dijimos lo que estábamos pensando. El equipo y sus parejas. La plantilla y sus acompañantes. 8 llo que es: Uso de profesiones de forma despectiva Hay determinados trabajos que son más habituales entre uno u otro co- lectivo. De por sí, es una forma de sexismo instaurada en la sociedad, ya que se considera que una mujer puede no ser tan buena médica como enfermera o que los hombres no son limpiadores. Evidentemen- te, existen trabajadoras y trabajadores de ambos sexos en los dife- rentes sectores, pero esta tendencia se refleja también en el lenguaje. Así, se habla de “los médicos” para referirse al colectivo, a pesar de que también haya doctoras, y “las enfermeras” a pesar de que haya también trabajadores de este tipo. Pasa lo mismo con “los pilotos” y “las azafatas”, dos formas muy usadas en el sector aéreo.Toma nota de estas correcciones que seguro que te resultan muy útiles: Expresión Alternativa Expresión Alternativa Raquel Martínez, abogado. La médico me atendió muy bien. Hay muchas mujeres que son políticos. Los médicos están en el descanso. Las enfermeras piden mejoras laborales. Las limpiadoras han hecho muy bien su trabajo. Raquel Martínez, abogada. La médica me atendió muy bien. Hay muchas mujeres que son políticas. Los médicos y las médicas están en el descanso. El cuerpo de enfermería pide mejoras laborales El equipo de limpieza ha hecho muy bien su trabajo.
  50. 50. Our words shape our world