We live in a society that is becoming more and more accepting of women’s rights with every generation. There is no arguing that this trend is positive for everyone — women and men alike — because continuing to oppress an entire gender is absurd to say the least. Words that substantiate the message that we still live in a male dominated society are not helping us achieve equality for all.
Most of these words are terms we say without a second thought, words like: businessman, mailman, policeman, freshman, mankind, and the list goes on. Feminism attempts to put men and women on a level playing field by bringing language into a more egalitarian form, deconstructing an institutionalized form of linguistic oppression.
The feminist movement is a noble endeavor, no doubt about it, but I do believe people sometimes use words and phrases without intending harm. For example, when someone says, “you’re being a sissy” or “every man for himself,” they aren’t necessarily trying to be sexist. In fact the speaker probably has no idea that what he or she is saying is gender biased at all.
Just today I caught myself telling one of my friends to stop acting like such a girl, which implies that being a woman is somehow inferior to being a man. Even though I know it’s wrong to speak like this, I sometimes do it — accidentally of course — because it has become all too common in our everyday language.
I’m not suggesting that it’s OK, I’m simply saying that most of the time it boils down to ignorance. Instead of criticizing people for using these words and phrases, perhaps we have a responsibility to teach them how to be more encompassing of everybody.
I’ve heard women on multiple occasions take offense to this subtle language without even considering the possibility that what was being said was innocent in nature. If someone doesn’t mean any harm by it, is it still sexist? Words are just a combination of letters after all. They have no significance until someone uses them in a manner that is intended to hurt you.
There are so many other aspects of feminism that we should focus on — violence against women, fair treatment in the workplace — that the gender language bias shouldn’t be a reason to dismiss the speaker outright.
The world is still far from perfect, but I think it’s important for us to realize that we have made enormous progress over the past 100 years, and we are still headed in the right direction.