How Gendered Language Enforces Patriarchy

Patriarchy, like other social systems, is also created by humans and gets further cemented when it seeps into language – the most essential element of human behaviour. And certain social groups use it as a tool to assert and maintain their dominance over others.

The patriarchal structure sustains itself through deep-rooted sociological patterns. Language, which acts as the primary medium of communication between people, is one of the breeding grounds of patriarchy. The fact that women are subjected to certain roles is arguably because of the rampant usage of gendered languages. To put it simply, the way we speak reveals many facets of our behaviour and biases.

We need to have conversations to break societal structures, but if the language itself is based on a gender binary, how are we going to break the existing structures?

Almost 75% of the world’s languages employ a sex-based system, which also indicates the sheer usage of male pronouns. These pronouns display gender binarism, which classifies gender into two distinct forms, thereby ignoring other genders.

When we read articles in the newspaper, magazine or at other portals, we often ignore how writers heavily use gendered language. We come across terms like ‘chairman’ or ‘fireman’ without realising how they perpetuate biases. These terms suggest that the these jobs are primarily held by men, and not women. It also disregards other genders beyond male and female.

Also read: Merriam Webster Adds ‘They’ as a Non-binary Pronoun Among 533 New Words

Lack of representation, I believe, is the primary reason behind the normalisation of this language. Most of the editors, who work at Oxford dictionary, are men. Websites like Wikipedia and Reuters are also dominated by men.

By and large, the community of authors around the world are men, who arguably don’t understand the implications of using language in such a manner. Patriarchal values are thus maintained by the structure itself. It is a vicious circle.

To bring out inclusivity in our everyday discourse, gender linguists suggest three things: re-building language, using words differently, and creating new words, like mansplaining – which refers to a man explaining something to someone, in a condescending manner, to assert his influence.

Usage of pronouns like ‘they’ and ‘their’ can also help in building an inclusive society. While some may have an issue with ‘they’ being used in a singular context, others argue – and rightfully so – that ‘they’ should be adopted as the standard third-person, gender-neutral pronoun in English language.

Language mirrors the society and its beliefs. Therefore, gendered languages reflect how we, as a society, have failed to progress in a way we should have.

When a society progresses, each element has to go hand in hand with that progress – and language is one such element. We are gradually inching towards an era of inclusivity and structural reforms by including a multitude of genders and identities in our daily conversations. And these terms, I believe, are a product of our thoughts.

Gender-neutral words and pronouns can bring about change in society. Thus the power to create an inclusive discourse lies in our hands.

Change lies in our hands.

Kuber Bathla is an undergraduate student at St Stephen’s College, New Delhi

Featured image credit: Unsplash