Significance Of Gender-Neutral Language

Srijana Karki

The word and language is not just a sound or a written symbol. It is the force or the power that we use to express and communicate. Our word is the gift that comes directly from god. Through those words and language, we express our creative power.
Some studies show the language we speak can shape the way we think, such as the study led by Lera Boroditsky at Stanford University in which she looked at how the languages we speak affect our thoughts.

Personality Changes
Some studies even show that our personality can change depending on the language we speak, meaning a person that speaks multiple languages can have different personalities, each depending on the language that person is speaking at the time (study lead by Nairan Ramírez-Esparza at the University of Connecticut). In daily practice, while speaking and selecting the words, we reflect our personality so we need to be aware of it.
However, in our practice due to our socialisation, some words like ‘chairman, policeman’ are gendered – as they have ‘man’ in them. From the beginning, these words have been set into our mind which we have learnt from school and family. These gender-specific terms fail to recognize the women who are in this position and occupations due to patriarchy.
Traditionally, so many jobs were preserved for men and titled accordingly: fireman, stewardess. Phrases like man’s origin and modern man overlook women’s contributions to civilization; man-made and man as a verb downplay women’s labour. Although this kind of language and words are not harmless: it helps to subordinate women in social and political relations.
Even though the situation has changed, many people still use these gendered terms knowingly or unknowingly. According to Sara Niner from Monash University, the use of these gendered terms preserves the system that provides men with the power to be in charge of everything and as if that they only know everything.

Among many ways of gender equality, the use of gender-neutral language and words is one and foremost important among many others. Gender-neutral language or gender-inclusive language is the language that avoids bias towards a particular sex or social gender. In English, this includes the use of nouns that are not gender-specific to refer to roles or professions.
Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is more than a matter of political correctness. Language powerfully reflects and influences attitudes, behaviour and perceptions. Gender-neutral words and language matters because, not only does it include all individuals and collectives, avoiding discriminatory words, but it also promotes social change and contributes to achieving gender equality in the profession. With growing awareness, people are moving away from gendered terms and embracing gender-neutral language. “Now that women can hold these positions, using gender-inclusive terms like ‘firefighter’ or ‘chair’ reflects the reality that the person fighting the fire or chairing the board could be a man or a woman,” Dr Tatman.
Language and the words that we use have significant consequences on how we perceive gender. Among the young generation, using gendered language leads to an increase in the importance of categorizing gender as part of socialisation. Masculine language can also lead to an increased perception of fictional characters as masculine or male.
Also, of significant importance, negative language is often more memorable than positive language as in our experience too. If negativity and masculinity are correlated, masculine language may also be more memorable than gender-neutral language which has important implications in our daily life.
Still, the several proverbs and statement and language used by our political and social leaders in the mass and their social media reflects and make a reminder that women are inferior, secondary to human and even disposable in our society. This kinds of language used by our leaders need to improve their personality and gender equality in society. Several proverbs suggest that women are inferior, secondary to humans and even disposable.

Using Inclusive Words
As explained by Dara Hoffman-Fox, LPC, using gendered terms such as ladies and gentlemen is highly presumptuous especially in today’s society in which many persons are aware that they do not identify the subject as male or female and therefore are uncomfortable with such type of language.
To help our no binary friends feel more included and safe around us, we can practice gender-neutral words and language in our daily life. We can also remove gendered language and words like postman as default words with postal workers. Not using words ending with “man” as the default phrase for any descriptor, we can normalize the idea that anyone can perform a job, regardless of their gender identity.
When we speak about mankind or the successes of man what we are doing is confirming the subconscious bias that men are intellectually, morally and physically superior to women which are wrong. By using such words and language we exclude women and for such matter, non-binary people from history and her story. We can avoid erasing women and no binary people from everyday conversations by using gender-neutral language and gendered inclusive words.