Language, Sex & Gender

This topic asks us to become more aware of language as an expression of gender identities. When we talk about gender in reference to language, we are referring to the way language embodies, reinforces and creates a socially constructed notion of maleness or femaleness, in often complex relation to the biological construct of sex. 

In some ways, we could say that gender is in the mind and/or constructed by society, while sex is in the body. Male and female are considered to be (bodily) sex-based categories, while femininity and masculinity are gender-based categories. Most studies of language and gender revolve around questions such as whether there IS a gender differentiation of language use, where it comes from, what forms it takes linguistically, and what effects it has on individuals and in society at large.

Guiding Questions:
  • How can language be gender-biased?
  • How does language reinforce stereotypes or culturally received ideas about what different genders do, and don't do, think and don't think?
  • Does language reflect our world, or does it create it? 
  • Is English really a non-sexist language because it has no masculine and feminine forms?
  • Is there a difference in the way men and women use language to achieve the same things? What are things that men can get away with saying but women can't (or vice-versa)? 
He She Bar by Eric Per1in

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