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Gender, language and cultural bias

Language both reflects cultural bias and creates it. As women in the workplace, how can we use language to promote gender equality?

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Gender, language and cultural bias

  1. 1. Gender, Language & Cultural Bias The Archery Club
  2. 2. Agenda • How language reflects our cultural biases • How language shapes our cultural biases • How we can use language to promote gender equality
  3. 3. 01 Language reflects our cultural biases
  4. 4. Language, as the medium through which we conduct almost all relationships, public and private, bears the precise imprint of our cultural attitudes. The history of language, then, is like a fossil record of how those attitudes have evolved, or how stubbornly they have stayed the same. David Shariatmadari The Guardian
  5. 5. pejoration: when the meaning of a word gets worse over time * this process is more likely to occur with words referring to women
  6. 6. Mistress before: female equivalent of master after: woman a married man is in a long term extramarital relationship with, other than his wife
  7. 7. Hussy before: female head of the household (13th c. contraction of housewife) after: a disreputable woman
  8. 8. Madam before: equivalent of sir—used to address a woman of high rank after: the head of a brothel
  9. 9. Governess before: female equivalent of governor after: a nanny or woman responsible for teaching and caring for a child
  10. 10. Courtesan before: someone who attends the court of a monarch after: prostitute
  11. 11. Wench before: female infant or young unmarried woman after: a “wanton” or sexually promiscuous woman
  12. 12. given that we live in a world in which our language is infused with cultural bias, as women, we are susceptible to developing biases—even against ourselves
  13. 13. So let’s share our test results.
  14. 14. 02 Language shapes our cultural biases
  15. 15. 85% of abstract personifications in art can be predicted by the grammatical gender of the word in the artist’s native language BORODITSKY 2009
  16. 16. the social category of sex is reflected in the grammatical structures of (nearly) all languages
  17. 17. and these structures have been shown to influence how gender equality plays out in society
  18. 18. There are 3 common types of grammatical structures pertaining to gender • grammatical gender language: every noun is assigned a gender, dependent forms must agree with noun, personal pronouns are gender specific (French or German) STAHLBERG 2007 • natural gender language: nouns do not have gender markers, personal pronouns are gender specific (English) • genderless language: no gender in noun system, no gender specific pronouns (Turkish)
  19. 19. PREWITT-FREILINO 2011 111 countries were studied gender equality in countries where gendered languages are spoken in countries where natural gender languages are spoken gender equality lessmore
  20. 20. 03 How we can use language to promote gender equality
  21. 21. How can we use this knowledge to influence how we see ourselves, and how others perceive us (and treat us)?
  22. 22. what do you think?
  23. 23. Be careful about using “gendered” terms • A recent study found that using certain types of words creates gender bias in job listings *terms in job listings that researchers have found may turn women off “Using previously published lists of gendered words, the researchers analyzed the listings and found that while male dominated fields tended to use more masculine words in job listings, female dominated fields didn't use more feminine words.” Klint Finley WIRED PECK 2015
  24. 24. Focus on using inclusive terms • When writing job listings, more inclusive terms tend to attract more women *terms researchers have found to be more inclusive PECK 2015
  25. 25. Avoid sexist phrases (and correct yourself when you use them) • Lookout for obvious male/female words or phrases that reinforce stereotypes. Correct yourself when you use these terms. Male Words Female Words • two-man rule • gentlemen’s agreement • old boys club • man up • ballsy • right-hand man • manpower • wingman • middleman • guys • run like a girl • diva • prima donna • drama queen • debbie downer • negative nancy • everyone and their mom
  26. 26. Be thoughtful about what pronouns you use, and when you use them. • When speaking hypothetically, we often use gender specific pronouns to describe certain kinds of people (ie. insurance agents, bosses, bankers etc). Female pronouns are becoming more common, but male pronouns are still twice as common
  27. 27. Use gender- neutral pronouns (and • In 2015, “they” - used as a gender neutral pronoun-was voted “word of the year” by the American Dialect Society • The word is now recognized as a grammatically correct singular pronoun
  28. 28. Further Reading • Representations of the Sexes in Language, Sahlberg 2007, 291783641_Representation_of_the_sexes_in_language • New Study Exposes Gender Bias in Tech Job Listings, Finley 2013, • Here Are the Words that May Keep Women From Applying to Jobs, Peck 2015, textio-unitive-bias-software_n_7493624.html • The Gendering of Language: A Comparison of Gender Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender, and Genderless Languages: Prewitt-Reilino 2011, 257663669_The_Gendering_of_Language_A_Comparison_of_Gender_Equality_in_Countries_with_Gendered_Natural_ Gender_and_Genderless_Languages • Eight Words That Reveal the Sexism at the Heart of the English Language, Shariatmadari 2016, https:// • The Right Words for the Job: How Gendered Language Effects the Workplace, Liu 2017, product/genderwords-b0be0cc8251f • The Language of Gender, • The Rise of She: What A Shift in Gendered Pronouns Means, Doll 2012, archive/2012/08/rise-she-what-shift-gendered-pronouns-means/324827/