Language is seen as the most basic function of human existence. Whether it is verbal language, sign language, body language, we can’t seem to survive without this system of communication. Going one step further, several schools of feminism have argued that the very conception and evolution of language is patriarchal in its construction and reflects the sexist and misogynist attitudes of the society at large. They argue that the creation of language structures, which seem value neutral on a superficial level, have hidden patriarchal meanings which can be found once one delves deeper.
Words like ‘hysteria’ are thrown as abuses on women. Hysteria, which the Victorian Age mannerism defined as a trait typical to women, perceives the ‘eccentricities’ of women as madness and labels them as mental disorders that need to be ‘cured’. Some Psychoanalysts have interpreted these behavior traits as outcomes of female anxiety in a male dominant set up, however the patriarchal structure by labeling them as hysteria classifies these traits as stereotypical and insulting. The word hysteria comes from the latin word ‘hyster’ which means womb; something very specific to women.
Take the the word ‘seminal’, it means something of high relevance and importance. For example, a seminal article, a seminal work of research; we prefix the word seminal to something to significance. The word comes from the term ‘semen’, which is an essentially male fluid, thereby reiterating the gendered meaning of words.
Even in our general usage of language, we don’t realize how we begin to reflect faulty socio-cultural realities. For example, ‘katori’ is a smaller utensil, whereas ‘katora’ becomes the bigger size of the same kind of utensil. Similarly, ‘chamchi’ and ‘chamcha’- how the stronger, tough, big in size objects immediately become masculine in nature whereas smaller, petite items are the coy, feminine aspects.
What is the need of the hour is to think about these subtle hints of sexism and make sure they don’t affect our thinking, and make a conscious attempt to not perpetuate gender stereotyping.