Is the English Language Sexist?

English has no masculine or feminine forms for words (unlike, say, French, in which the gender of words is marked by ‘le/la’ and masculine/feminine endings). But does this mean that the English language is inherently non-sexist? Begin with How Language Governs Our Perceptions of Gender, then read a couple more articles to find out some different points of view on this topic:

Class Activity

The idea that language can stunt or stimulate mental responses is interesting. Nominate one person to read each word from the lists below one at a time. When you hear a word, does it automatically or subconsciously associate with a particular gender? Use a simple M / W system to keep track of your responses, then compare your responses to others? Are there any patterns? Areas of agreement or disagreement? Can you add any more adjectives associated with a particular gender to the list?

  • Beautiful
  • Handsome
  • Coy
  • Rambunctious
  • Lively
  • Buff
  • Hot
  • Teacher
    Computer Technician
    Traffic Warden
    High School Principal

Learner Portfolio

Is the English Language sexist? In what ways can English be ‘gendered’? Write up your learning about this topic in a one-two page journal entry.

Body of Work: Why I Want a Wife

Judy Syfers was inspired to write this essay, ‘I want a wife’, after visiting a feminist conference in 1970. She wrote her piece and read it to a crowd in San Francisco on the 50th aniversary of women’s rights to vote. Her essay was reprinted in Ms. magazine in 1990:

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

This essay would work very well as a non-literary text in your Individual Oral. The named author would be ‘Judy Syfers.’ You could explore the Global Issues of: Beliefs, Values and Education or Culture, Identity and Community. You may have ideas about how to pair the articles with the literary texts you are studying. If not, don’t worry; speak to your teacher or use the following suggestions as a starting point:

  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, (compare this essay to Act 5 Scene 1 in which Lorenzo reveals his true colours when speaking to Jessica).
  • Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (chapter 8, in which Lucia argues with the men over the way she is treated would make a perfect comparison, as would other extracts from this literary work).
  • Shaw’s Pygmalion (Higgins and Liza argue twice in Acts 4 and 5 – either would be good extracts to pair with this essay).


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