Arts & Culture

Language and Patriarchy: The Case of Gendered Languages

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Language creates a link between gender binarism and the system of patriarchy. The existence of this bridge has been internalized by societies that are thriving towards progress.

Like other social systems, Patriarchy is also created by humans. It becomes rigid when something as absolute as patriarchy pierces into the most basic thing related to human behaviour, language. It then becomes a tool used by a group of social animals to assert and maintain their dominance in culture.

The structure of patriarchy is woven in a manner that sustains itself through deep-rooted sociological patterns. Language, which acts as the primary medium for communication between people, is one of the breeding grounds of the system of patriarchy. Women being subjected to certain roles is a product of gendered languages, and thus the way we speak reveals many facts concerning human behaviour.

Conversations become important to break societal structures. But if the tool itself is based on a gender binary, then it is the status quo that perpetuates. Almost 75% of the world’s languages employ a sex-based system, which also indicates the sheer usage of male pronouns. These pronouns clearly display gender binarism, which classifies gender into two distinct forms, thereby ignoring the existence of many other genders which should be recognized by the social system.

One’s gender can be communicated with the use of pronouns. These pronouns have a power that goes beyond these societal structures. Articles that a person reads have capabilities of bringing out the biases within people. Many such articles with heavy usage of gendered language go unnoticed by the people. The use of terms like ‘chairman’ ‘fireman’ suggests two things. One, that these positions were believed to be reserved for men only, and women were not allowed to take such jobs. Two, that the existence of many genders was disregarded in society.

A lack of representation has fueled the existence of such languages. Most of the editors of the Oxford dictionary have been men. Websites like Wikipedia and Reuters are dominated by men. The community of authors around the globe largely consists of men, most of whom lack the understanding of the implications associated with the use of language in such a manner. Patriarchal values are thus maintained by the structure itself. It is a vicious circle.

To bring about inclusivity, gender linguists suggest three things: Re-building language, using words differently, and creating new words. Such new words include ‘mansplaining’, which refers to a man explaining something to someone, in a condescending manner, to assert his influence. Use of pronouns like ‘they’ ‘their’ can help to build a discourse that would aid the society at large. While some may have an issue with ‘they’ being used in a singular context, many others argue that ‘they’ should be adopted as English’s standard third-person, gender-neutral pronoun.

Language is a mirror of society and its beliefs. Gendered languages, therefore, reflect how society has failed to progress in a way it should have. Waves of feminism have appealed to linguists around the world, to create languages that are inclusive and non-binary.

When a society progresses, each element has to cope up with this progress. Language is one such element. With the inclusion of a multitude of identities and genders, the world is moving towards an era of inclusivity and structural reforms. These words are a product of thought. Thought can be altered through conscious effort and reasoning. Gender-neutral words and pronouns can bring about change in society. Thus the power to create a discourse lies in our hands. Change lies in our hands.


Kuber Bathla

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Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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