The Role of Feminism in Language Change


TheRole of Feminism in Language Change

Towards the endof the twentieth century, large-scale movements emerged – forexample, black civil rights, second wave feminism, lesbian and gayliberation – all basing their claims on the injustices members ofcertain gender or social groups were experiencing. All thesemovements, especially the feminist movement, were undergirded andfostered by a certain philosophical body of English or literaturethat took up questions about the uncertainty and future of what theywould be defending. Since then, there has been a huge feministconcern over the use of gender-neutral meaning of the terms “man”and “he” (Jule, 2008). They have also pointed out that thesupposed meaning of these gender-neutral terms as completely notgender-neutral. The purpose of this paper therefore is to study how,from a linguistic and historical perspective, the feminist movementhas impacted the recent literature, language, and politics. The paperwill base it on the English language having been influenced by thelanguage’s ideological power, by use of sexist language, and genderof stereotyped speech.

Languageand Gender

Gender isa communicatively inherent process constructed and enacted largelyfrom language. When a person is heard talking about other peoplenamed: Paul, Henry, or George, there is a tendency to automaticallyassume that they are male. However, English names meant for femalesare derived often from or are considered male diminutive forms, forexample, Paula, Pauline, Paulette, Georgina, or Henrietta (Tannen,1993). The conventional terms of titles or address in the Englishlanguage and other languages have forced women to choose forms thathave been marked in a way Mrs. And Miss for instance, which indicatemarital status, or an indication of marital status (Ehrlich, 2008).In addition, male title is marked as Mr. signaling that the person ismale. These kind of usage are a reflection of the assumptions in thesociety about gender and its roles, and in particular the women’spotential availability at the disposal of men, as marital partners.

For instance,when a person randomly mentions a color as baby blue, lavender,carnation pink, or mauve, it is automatically imagined that thespeaker in a woman, and not a man. The stories about scientists onstory books or newspapers, triggers images of men even though thereare many female scientists as of now. The use of the term “man”,instead of presenting a more gender-neutral term, for example,human(s), people, or humanity, obscures the contribution of women tolanguage and its growth. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped on themoon for the first time, he uttered: “That is a small step for man,but a giant’s step for mankind” (Jule, 2008). Nowadays, this kindof usage could be referred to as “sexist”. Many governmentorganizations and publishers including government agencies are nowsticking to guidelines that ensure avoidance of language that mayexclude women that may even stereotypes them in bad way.

Perceiveddifferences in gender, due to these kinds of stereotypes, are aboutthese differences rather than what comes out from the actualexistence of what gender entails. Again, it is hard to differentiatebetween the actual behavior and the expectations. An example is thestereotype of a gossiping, talkative woman, and the ideal silence ofanother woman, in paintings and medieval woodcuts, whereby VirtuePrudence is viewed as a housewife having a padlock locked on hermouth. According to Tannen (1990), when the yardstick is silence,then any woman that talks seems to be conversing too much. Gender isnot about cultural and biological differences, but about politicalpower.

TheWomen’s Invisibility

TheFeminist concerns have exceeded mere classifications of the terms inquestion. They have argued again that such terms like “man” and“he”, contributes in ensuring that women are visible. That is tosay, it obscures the importance of women, while distracting attentionaway from their existence (Tannen, 1994). To fight the women’sinvisibility present an important project in many ways, and thelanguage makes one think of women less, which clearly contribute totheir invisibility. There is evidence of a good psycholinguisticanalysis, with those that encounter such sentences with the terms“man” and “he”, readily thinks of males more than they do tofemales. If at all this is considered right, then using these wordscan be viewed as a contributing factor to the women’s invisibility.It therefore presents the feminists with a good reason to fightagainst gender-neutral use of the terms.

However, if theonly worry that concerns one is obscuring the presence of women, itis therefore going to be difficult to deny the use of other termsthat the feminists are known to object. Such occupational terms thatare gender specific, for instance, “manageress”, is stillcommonly used in the United States and the United Kingdom, and eventhe “lady doctor” (Litosseliti, 2006). Certainly, these terms donot contribute to the women’s invisibility instead, it demands theattention of women availability. Moreover, these terms call theattention to the presence of women in the authoritative positions –manager and doctor. More feminists, nonetheless, that thinks a lotabout the language, view these terms as objectionable.

One clear reasonfor objecting to such terms as “lady doctor” and “manageress”is that the use of these terms appears premised behind maleness ideaof a normal thing, and that the women who fill these positions arethe deviant version of managers and doctors. In addition, feministsalso view it as the main objection to using the terms “man” and“he”. Litosseliti (2006) understand these terms on the idea ofbrand names model, for example, the “scotch tape” and “hoover”,which turns out to be the product type for generic terms. Whiledisputing the feminist believes, such terms as “man” and “he”work exactly in the same manner.

The terms are gender specific for the kind of men that uses them tocover both the women and men. It is to be argued that feministsshould view it and understand that maleness present a sense of norm.By doing this, the feminist view it as a kind of insult since theterms are used as if they are gender neutrals. Forces againstfeminism position argues that the details are disputed since “man”never started its life as the overall gender-specific, and laterextended and covers both men and women. Rather, the “man” startedits life as “man”, which is a gender-neutral word that onlyacquired the meaning later. It is therefore against the feministclaim that the term extends to represent both the genders (Jule,2008). Those that go against the feminists claim believes that theuse of such terms, represented gender neutrality and entertains theobjectionable believe that men present the norm for humanity.

TheFeminism’s Influence on the English Language

Over theyears, the English language was meant for all readers, speakers, andwriters. But the day feminist movement took shape in the form ofdisapproving gender-specific terms, arrogant ideologies emerged, andthey started to recast the language into heavy artillery that wasmeant to defend the orders of the State of New Feminist. Currently,the movement has gotten us used to such sentences where words like“human kind” and “chairperson” peen and strut, wherethe terms “he’ or “she” keeps emerging into the surrounding,and its related deformities begin to blossom (Ehrlich, 2008).

The feministmovement has also allowed their ideologies grab this pricelessproperty and goes with it. The modern day, fully-fledged Englishteachers and college students are a product of feminist incubators ofEnglish language consciousness, where they have spent their wholelives in it. The feminists have influenced how English languageshould be taught and handled. How can the students be taught to takethe rule seriously when the whole system has been clouded by thefeminist view of the English language? For instance, when studentsare ordered at the start of their English class to insert the words“he or she” in spaces where the term “he” means exact samething, and the word “firefighter” replaced by “fireman”, howwould they be convinced that it means one and the same thing? Thestudents may be full of ignorance but they could not be stupid.According to Hendricks &amp Oliver (1999), there are torpedo claimsthat Feminist English has submerged the whole teaching and learningprocess of English language.

“He” or“she” for example, presents the proud marshal of this kind ofpathetic parade. The feminist movement over the years has generatedcascading number of problems, and with identification ofgender-neutral series of terms, it sounds rotten, and thus they haverethink alternatives that are considered even worse. The awfulness offeminists, in some cases, demands several paragraphs of systemicinvestigation (Tannen, 1993). The feminists’ influence of theEnglish language ensures that such kind of investigations is worthpursuing since the English language appears to be at stake.

When thefeminist movements first announced, a few decades ago about theneutrality of “he” denotes “male” that exclude the female, itwas a lie, and they knew about it. After all, when Tannen (1994)stated that “no number of readers can vouch more than theirexperiences”, it is hard to accuse her for envisioning theinfluence that the feminist could have on the language. The ideologyaccuses the lie, in the mind of a feminist, and the interchangeablegoal of the sexes is that it presents a greater good more than adecent language. Today, most English enthusiasts have heard aboutEudora Welty, who drafted a memoir, towards the end of anti-Englishfeminist campaign, while nearing complete victory.

While it istrue that any language change during the course of time, feminists’movement might argue that “he” or “she” presents the will ofthe people, while it offers a twist to the ever-changing path of thelanguage. The movement was aware of the 1960’s Americans that werestuck by a sudden en masse of unhappiness over the neutrality ofcertain English words, especially the word “chairman” (Tannen,1993). The fact that New English has since been pushed deliberatelyto come up with terms of gender-neutrality the feminists havepounded it into the heads of most people, and in their culture.Feminists have also followed independently a well-establishedlanguage tendency that simplifies and compresses the currentstructural terms, to ensure that it create room for their arrival ofsuch coinages as “authoress” that could have certainlydisappeared without the influence of feminists. The feminists alsopushed for the use of “he or she” from simply “he” (Tannen,1990). It is depressing how feminists’ movement have pushed for achange in a number of gender-sensitive words to more neutral ones.For instance, phrases such as “great men”, which have been usedbefore, have now been changed to “great people”, which sound alittle bit silly.

TheFeminists’ Movement and Political Correctness

Politically,the feminist have used English language to drive their agendas. Thereis also political correctness that acts as a movement in an effort toencourage and allow social development through language. According toHendricks &amp Oliver (1999), language creates certain categories ofthoughts that encourage social development. The whole of Englishlanguage attempt to signify the meaning therefore, the language thatis normally used for communication purposes affects not just thewhole process, but also the way we act and think. The problem ariseswhen there is an influence to the way linguistic and language isconstructed or is influenced, for example, by the feminists, and thusaffect our way of thinking.

The terms“political correctness” and “politically correct”, in a waythat is described above, have been entered into the English languagethrough the feminist movement coupled with other movements since1970s. The “politically correct” phrase has since spread quicklyto other parts of the world (Litosseliti, 2006). These terms had beenused previously however, the previous meaning corresponded with thethoughts on politics and its policies. For example, there was the useof “correctness”, while in its liberal manner without anyspecific reference to the language, which some people might haveconsidered it has discriminatory or illiberal to gender.

The politicalinfluence, from the feminists, is felt when there was an attempt tomodify language, which was completely misguided. For instance, therewas an attempt by certain feminists’ movements in the UnitedKingdom to stop the use of the phrase “nitty-gritty”. The attemptwas view as a mistaken thought against the black people. Thispolitical influence is also viewed by the use of gender-biased termssuch as “chairman” especially when it is a female who is chairinga meeting. The politics behind this is of the extreme view that thisissue has since been encapsulated, in that, the feminist movement atsome point tried to lobby the United Kingdom government to change thecity of Manchester to be renamed “Personchester” (Litosseliti,2006). This was one of the influences that feminism has at thepolitical stage.

Jule (2008),noted that feminism idea behind “Political correctness”, uses theterms “neutral” and “inclusive” language to base it upon thebelief that “the English represents thoughts and could even controlthoughts”, grammatical language categories that shapes the actionsand ideas, although there is a moderate thoughts and conceptions ofthe relationship between the thought and the English language, it issufficient to applaud the “reasonable deductions” of the“cultural influence through linguistic change”.

There is theEnglish stereotype, which is unconsciously implicit, and isfacilitated by the presence of pejorative terms and labels. To renderthe terms and labels is regarded as totally unacceptable therefore,it is important that people should think about the manner in whichsomeone views other people unlike themselves. The process oflabelling may turn out as unconscious, and thus the merits of thepeople become apparent, and not on their own English languagestereotypes.

Ehrlich (2008)argues that political influence is a censorship and thereforeendangers free speech by curtailing what is regarded as a publicdiscourse. It is also argued that correct terms, politically, arethose awkward euphemist truer, stark language, and originalnon-influenced English language terms. Feminist movements havemarginalized the use of certain phrases and words through publicesteem instrumentation.

Feminists arguecertain gender-biased terms and phrases present a form of rootedassumption, which in a political perspective, present dominion overcertain gender over the other. With this argument, it holds certainlevel of correctness, which is subjective, while it corresponds tothe view that the government, special interest groups, or theminority, oppose. The feminists claim that by politically silencingthese contradictions, the opponents could view these influence asmediocre and orthodox, since it was supposed to be accepted to betrue.

However, thefeminism influence on certain terms that are controversial in Englishlanguage is argued to show the same kind of sensitivity to otherchoice of words that are claimed to oppose, and by view of certainpolitical agenda where none existed before. For example, there was apolitical upheaval when a school attempted to alter the originalnursery school rhyme. Such as case was considered by feminists as anattempt to trigger political movement that could curtail their ownfreedom of language.

In addition, theidentified problem that seems to motivate political movements is theaboriginal culture that is often ignored in the mainstream platformin a political system. According to feminists, gender-biased Englishterms are still used to unconsciously violate the women (Hendricks &ampOliver, 1999). The “equality” meant for queer people are stillpremised typically on the level of sameness to the privilegedsubjectivity of heterosexism. The models that are premised inidentification of categories have turned out to be inadequate to ourbecoming complexities, which is the basis of political strength toopredicate and heavy on the loss and negation of gender-biased Englishlanguage terms.


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Litosseliti, L.(2006). Gender and language: Theory and practice. London:Hodder Arnold..

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