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:
- The Language Row over Female Ships
- The Problem with Gendered Language
- Sexism in Spoken English
- Womansplaining the Problem with Gendered Language
- When a Term of Endearment is Not Welcome
- How Language Governs Our Perceptions of Gender
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?
High School Principal
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).