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Sexist Language

  • ... nobody alive or dead deserves to be called a poetess.

  • 'Slut' used to mean a slovenly woman. Now it means a woman who will go to bed with everyone. This is considered a bad thing in a woman, although perfectly fabulous in a man. 'Bitch' means a woman who will go to bed with everyone but you.

  • Give us that grand word 'woman' once again, / And let's have done with 'lady'; one's a term / Full of fine force, strong, beautiful, and firm, / Fit for the noblest use of tongue or pen; / And one's a word for lackeys.

  • Sexist grammar burns into the brains of little girls and young woman a message that the male is the norm, the standard, the central figure beside which we are the deviants, the marginal, the dependent variables. It lays the foundation for androcentric thinking, and leaves men safe in their solipsistic tunnel-vision.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Taking Women Students Seriously," in Evelyn Ashton-Jones and Gary A. Olson, The Gender Reader ()
  • For many people, feminism has almost been equated with a tiresome insistence on 'chair' and 'dustperson,' and plenty of strong-minded women who've never had the slightest difficulty with language think the whole thing is absurd — it's certainly given an easy target to its enemies. But they underestimate the cumulative effect of always hearing Stone-Age man, postman, chairman; of the different reactions you have to 'landlord' and 'landlady,' of 'a bit of a bitch' and 'a bit of a dog.'

  • [After being corrected by a grammarian for using the feminine pronoun instead of the pseudogeneric masculine:] As you please, but for my part, if I were to express myself so, I should fancy I had a beard.

    • Madame de Sévigné,
    • in M. Ph. A. Grouvelle, "Biographical Sketch" (1696), The Letters of Madame de Sévigné, vol. 1 ()
  • In many patriarchies, language, as well as cultural tradition, reserve the human condition for the male. With the Indo-European languages this is a nearly inescapable habit of mind, for despite all the customary pretense that 'man' and 'humanity' are terms which apply equally to both sexes, the fact is hardly obscured that in practice, general application favors the male far more often than the female as referent, or even sole referent, for such designations.

  • Language changes. If it does not change, like Latin it dies. But we need to be aware that as our language changes, so does our theology change, particularly if we are trying to manipulate language for a specific purpose. That is what is happening with our attempts at inclusive language, which thus far have been inconclusive and unsuccessful.

  • In reality, all communication that debilitates females also debilitates males, for if any system diminishes a part of the species, it diminishes all of it.

  • Interesting, isn't it, that even though more than two and a half decades have passed since the sexual revolution brought women a new measure of sexual freedom, there's still no word in the language that doesn't reek with pejorative connotation to describe a woman who has sex freely. Since language frames thought and sets its limits, this is not a trivial matter. For without a word that describes without condemning, it's hard to think about it neutrally as well. When we say the words 'promiscuous woman,' therefore, it's a statement about her character, not just her sexual behavior.

  • We need only look at the language we use about men, women and sex to understand the differences. Men score, they make it, they collect notches — language that connotes conquest and accomplishment. Women are seduced, they're taken, they give up their virginity — words that suggest submission and loss. He's the actor, she the acted-upon. He gains status; she loses it as she gives up this socially prized commodity. He's a stud; she's too easy, a slut.

  • 'When you say Man,' said Oedipus, 'you include women / too. Everyone knows that.' She said, 'That's what / you think.'

  • The dictionary is, however, only a rough draft.

    • Monique Wittig,
    • in Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig, Lesbian Peoples ()
  • They say that there is no reality before it has been given shape by words rules regulations. They say that in what concerns them everything has to be remade starting from basic principles. They say that in the first place the vocabulary of every language is to be examined, modified, turned upside down, that every word must be screened.

  • [On using 'seminal' for 'germinal/groundbreaking,' etc.:] If we believe what newspapers and magazines tell us, intellectual and literary prowess flows from Man's Most Cherished Protuberance. ... The apologist for biased language usage will, of course dismiss such matters as trivial. But I think they make a vas deferens.

  • In any social movement, when changes are effected, the language sooner or later reflects the change. Our approach is different. Instead of passively noting the change, we are changing language patterns to actively effect the changes.

  • Studies have shown that the terms girl and lady have pejorative connotations: They conjure images of someone weaker and lazier; someone more nervous, afraid, dependent, immature, and inconsiderate; someone less sexy, intelligent, and certainly less charismatic than 'woman.' Indeed, the term woman is overwhelmingly interpreted as more favorable and is most often used to describe adult females who deserve respect.

    • Pat Heim,
    • with Susan K. Golant, Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business ()
  • Absolute freedom doesn't exist and never did. Just as we don't spit on the floor at work, swear at customers, or send out letters full of misspellings, so too we might have to 'watch our language.' It is odd that the request for unbiased language in schools and workplaces is considered intolerable when other limits on our freedom to do whatever we want are not.

  • I believe the deeply rooted semantic confusion between 'man' as a male and 'man' as a species has been fed back into and vitiated a great deal of the speculation that goes on about the origins, development, and nature of the human race.

  • According to the dictionary: 'in modern apprehension man as thus used' [in the sense of 'person'] 'primarily denotes the male sex, though by implication referring also to women.' I am not sure that 'by implication' fully expresses the degree to which I wish to feel included in the human race.

  • It is no accident that the -ette form used to mean female in majorette is also used to mean small or diminutive in kitchenette and to mean imitated in leatherette.

  • If a woman is swept off a ship into the water, the cry is 'Man overboard!' If she is killed by a hit-and-run driver, the charge is 'manslaughter!' If she is injured on the job, the coverage is 'workman's compensation!' But if she arrives at a threshold marked 'Men Only,' she knows the admonition is not intended to bar animals or plants or inanimate objects. It is meant for her.

    • Alma Graham,
    • "The Making of a Nonsexist Dictionary," in B. Thorne and N. Henley, eds., Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance ()
  • For hundreds of years the use of the word 'man' has troubled critical scholars, careful translators, and lawyers. Difficulties occur whenever and wherever it is important for truth-seeking purposes to know what is being talked about and the context gives no intimation whether 'man' means just a human being irrespective of sex or means a masculine being and none other.

  • It is urged that the use of the masculine pronouns he, his, and him in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government and from penalties for the violation of laws. There is no she or her or hers in the tax laws, and this is equally true of all the criminal laws.

    • Susan B. Anthony,
    • 1872, in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony ()
  • Whether consciously or not, sexist God language undermines the human equality of women made in the divine image and likeness.

  • ... the way in which a faith community shapes language about God implicity represents what it takes to be the highest good, the profoundest truth, the most appealing beauty. ... While officially it is rightly and consistently said that God is spirit and so beyond identification with either male or female sex, yet the daily language of preaching, worship, catechesis, and instruction conveys a different message: God is male, or at least more like a man than a woman, or at least more fittingly addressed as male than as female.

  • Dear sirs, man to man, manpower, craftsman, working men, the thinking man, the man in the street, fellow countrymen, the history of mankind, one-man show, man in his wisdom, statesman, forefathers, masterful, masterpiece, old masters, the brotherhood of man, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, sons of free men, faith of our fathers, god the father, god the son, yours fraternally, amen. Words fail me.

  • [On men in public office 'womanizing':] There's no such word as 'man-izer.' You couldn't get away with it. Never!

  • This monopoly over language is one of the means by which males have ensured their own primacy, and consequently have ensured the invisibility or 'other' nature of females ...

  • ... what has been termed 'correct' English is nothing other than the blatant legitimation of the white middle-class code.

  • I identify myself as an actor, because I feel like you don't go to the doctress, you go to the doctor; it doesn't matter what the gender is. I think actresses worry about eyelashes and cellulite, and women who are actors worry about the characters we are playing. A separate category is another way of making us a special-interest group.

  • Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shared his power with no female divinity, nor was he the divine Husband or Lover of any. He can scarcely be characterized in any but masculine epithets: king, lord, master, judge, and father. Indeed, the absence of feminine symbolism for God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast to the world's other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome, or in Africa, India, and North America, which abound in female symbolism. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theologians today are quick to point out that God is not to be considered in sexual terms at all. Yet the actual language they use in daily worship and prayer conveys a different message: who, growing up with Jewish or Christian tradition, has escaped the distinct impression that God is masculine? And while Catholics revere Mary as the mother of Jesus, they never identify her as divine in her own right: if she is 'mother of God,' she is not 'God the Mother' on an equal footing with God the Father!

  • I am an actor; I don't understand actress. You don't call doctors 'doctoresses' or 'doctorettes,' you call them 'doctors.'

  • An actress can only play a woman. I'm an actor. I can play anything.

  • ... conventional English usage, including the generic use of masculine-gender words, often obscures the actions, the contributions, and sometimes the very presence of women. Turning our backs on that insight is an option, of course, but it is an option like teaching children that the world is flat.

    • Casey Miller,
    • in Casey Miller and Kate Swift, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing ()