Gender Language & the Question of Neutrality in Teaching! By Mustapha Boughoulid email@example.com
I-« Sex differences » or « Gender differences »!?NB: Sometimes it is hard tounderstand exactly what is meantby the term « Gender », and how itdiffers from the closely relatedterm « Sex ».
-Many people use the two words incorrectly,as interchangeable, when they signify two verydifferent things:a- « Sex » refers to the biological andphysiological characteristics that separate malefrom female.b- « Gender » refers to the socially constructedroles, behaviors, activities and attributes that agiven society considers appropriate for menand women.
II-Why gender matters in teaching?Sexist Language:It’s the act of excluding either men or womenwhen discussing a topic that is applicable toboth sexes.Among the common errors that show genderbias is assuming that the subject of allsentences is male.Men become the norm & women the ‘other’.
Example:a-‘‘Each student chose his own topic…’’, leadsthe reader to assume that all the students aremales.b-(‘‘Each student chose his/her topic…’’.This is an easy edit that introduces stylisticclunkers such as ‘his/her’ & ‘s/he’ or thequestionable grammar for a mixed versionsuch as:‘‘One should wash their hands every day’’( ‘one’ is singular, but ‘their’ is plural)
One of the underlying contributions to this issue is the attitudes we have towards each other based on gender stereotypes. Two questions for boys & girls: 1-What does it mean to ‘‘ Act Like a Man’’ in our society?(Answers: tough, muscles, be a leader,rough sports, don’t cry, strong, nothingstands in the way …)
2-What does it mean to be « Ladylike » in our society?(Answers: pretty, nice, polite, gentle,sensitive, cry all the time, well dressed,good manners, don’t fight, loyal, dependon guys …)
III-Where do we learn these attitudes?-Peers;-Family;-Magazines;-TV;-Movies;-Video games;-School;-(…)
VI-How can we opt for a gender neutral language in teaching?‘‘ A good policeman knows his duty’’. ‘‘ A good police officer knows his/her duty’’.‘‘Good police officers know their duty’’.
Remarks:The first phrase unnecessarily excludeswomen;Replacing ‘‘his’’ with ‘‘his / her’’ in thesecond phrase will sound tedious;Pluralizing is often a good solution:(Good police officers know their duty.)
Activity/Quiz:The following sentences containgender bias which we shouldremove by using gender neutrallanguage.NB: Grammar changes to meet theneeds of its users:
Sentence 1:‘‘ A professor should correct his studentspapers according to this set of predeterminedguidelines’’.Grammar’s version:‘‘Professors should correct their studentspapers according to this set of predeterminedguidelines’’.
Sentence 2:‘‘From the beginning of time, mankind usedhorses in one way or another’’.Grammar’s version:‘‘From the beginning of time, humans usedhorses in one way or another’’.
Sentence 3:‘‘Are there any freshmen who would like towork in the Writing Center?’’Grammar’s version:‘‘Are there any first-year students who wouldlike to work in the Writing Center?’’
Sentence 4:‘‘The stewardess served the chicken picatta tothe pompous gentleman’’.Grammar’s version:‘‘The flight attendant served the chickenpicatta to the pompous gentleman’’.
Sentence 5:‘‘Shannon was hoping a doctor would give hisopinion’’.Grammar’s v ersion:‘‘Shannon was hoping a doctor would give anopinion’’.
Sentence 6:‘‘The authoress, Mary Higgins Clark, hosted abook signing at Barnes and Noble ’’. .Grammar’s version:‘‘The author, Mary Higgins Clark, hosted abook signing at Barnes and Noble’’.
Sentence 7:‘‘Ask Haydens mother to pack him a betterlunch in the future’’.Grammar’s version:‘‘Ask Haydens parents to pack him a betterlunch in the future’’.
Sentence 8:‘‘A college is a corner of mens hearts wherehope has not died. Here the prison house hasnot closed; here no battle is yet quite lost.Here, we assert, endow, and defend as finalreality the best of our dream as men. Here liesour sense of community. ’’__ Howard Lowry
How would we write this piece of text differently today?How about: "A college is a corner of our hearts wherehope has not died"? and "Here, we assert, endow, anddefend as final reality the best of our dreams."?We certainly have not improved upon the sound ofLowrys words, but have we lost anything by thesechanges? Probably not much, and what we have lost,weve more than gained by decreasing the chancesof offending or marginalizing an entire gender fromthe definition of a college — something that wouldnever have entered Howard Lowrys unbiased mindand generous heart.
V-Pluralizing or alternating the gender of the people:‘‘A writer should sharpen her pencils daily. A reader should keep his eyes open’’.More widely accepted strategies for avoidingsexist language include pluralizing:‘‘Writers should sharpen their pencils.Readers should keep their eyes open’’.
ConclusionIf we change the way we teach, wewill change the way we think, sothat we do not perpetuate theimbalanced cultural view thatshaped our language.