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Language, Gender and Culture

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There is a need to start with an explanation of the term sex and the term gender since there is a difference between these two. The term sex is a reference to biological characteristics, such as genetic differences and genitalia. To be more precise, it is used to difference “male” and “female”.

The term gender is not as easy to explain since there is not a basis in science, it refers to social categories. Traditionally, society teaches that are two genders: woman and man. But, as society nowadays brings more attention to this matter, someone who is assigned, for example, a woman at birth could not identify as one. Gender appears to reflect, within a given society, the social and cultural position of each sex. Instead of being solely determined by genes as there are typically sex differences, individuals also establish their gender roles in response to their environments, such as family relationships, schooling, peers, and media.

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An individual who identifies with the gender who was assigned at birth is “cisgender”, but, for example, when someone identifies with a different gender as the one assigned at birth is “transgender”. To summon up, there are the terms “transsexual”, “binary”, “non-binary”, and “genderfluid”, “agender”, “bigender”, “polygender”, “neutrois”, “gender apathetic”, “androgyne”, “intergender”, “demi gender”, “grey gender”, “aporagender”, “maverick” and “novigender”.

Sexism is discrimination based on sex or gender or the assumption that sexism is justified if men are superior to women. It can be conscious or unconscious of such a conviction. The distinctions between two, or more, groups are seen in discrimination, as in prejudice, as signs that one class is superior or inferior. Sexual discrimination against women and children is a way to maintain male dominance. Gender discrimination is especially defined in terms of disparity in the workforce.

The term “sexism”, according to Fred R. Shapiro, was probably coined by Pauline M. Leet on November 18 in 1965. The first time the term appeared in print, as believed by Shapiro, was in the speech “On Being Born Female” by Caroline Bird on November 15 in 1968.

‘There is recognition abroad that we are in many ways a sexist country. Sexism is judging people by their sex when sex doesn’t matter. Sexism is intended to rhyme with racism.’ (Bird, 1968)

A few examples of sexism in the world are:

  • Just 1% of executive positions are held by women in the world’s largest international corporations. Women just occupy 6.2% of all ministerial positions throughout the world.
  • Companies, for example, tend to lay off women because men are the providers of the family.
  • The Wall Street Journal explored the gender pay gap in 422 professions in the United States and concluded that women earn less than men in 439 of the jobs that were analyzed.
  • In political representation, there is the least progress over the years, with an average difference of 16,5%.
  • Across Switzerland, Japan and Belgium there are only fifty-three, sixty-three, and seventy-eight women for every hundred people enrolled across higher education.
  • Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food and yet earn only 10 percent of the world’s income and own less than 1 percent of the world’s property. Almost a quarter of the global population lives in extreme poverty – on less than the equivalent of $1 per day. Seventy percent of these people are women. (Thomas, et al., 2004)

Sexist language disproportionately portrays women and men, as if members of one gender were somehow less intelligent, less complex, and had fewer rights than members of the other sex. Sexist language often expresses stereotypes, sometimes to men’s detriment, but more often to women’s disadvantage. A few examples to show how language elevates the image of man are: gentleman’s agreement, man-on-man defense, wingman, right-hand man, and middleman. But, as for female terms, people use them with a negative tone, such as, drama queen, Debbie Downer (someone who frequently adds bad news and negative feelings to a meeting, thus increasing everyone’s attitude around them), and prima donna.

A recent campaign is set to generate a tangible cultural shift in our view of women’s sport to see it as something powerful, important, and worth celebrating. This initiative is called 20×20. To raise awareness Three, a sponsor of the Republic of Ireland, partnered up with 20×20 and presented a video showing how men and women are treated differently.

In this video, Mick McCarthy, who is an ex-football player and currently the manager of the football team of the Republic of Ireland, says that he has been called a lot of things in his career but he was never called insults that normally society uses to describe female athletes. The insults vary from feisty, sassy, spirited, lovely, ladylike, and mannish. At the end of the video Louise Quinn, who is an Irish footballer playing as a defender on Arsenal, appears and asks “So why am I?”. The Irish football player believes that the way that people talk about men and women in sport has a very different tone.

In the website of the Cambridge dictionary one of the examples shown to describe feistily it appears in the sentence a feisty lady, and if you look up the word sassy the example is a sassy young girl. Even when someone looks up the word mannish, where the root is man, the examples used are her mannish voice and she wondered if short hair made her look a little mannish.

The video ends with the sentence “Studies show that the language used to describe women and men in sport are leagues apart. Let’s change how we talk about women in sport.”  

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