Language about women #
Linguistic double standards #
History indicates that women are judged more harshly. Women suffer from a double standard; the exact same behaviour that types women as sluts, types men as studs. Women are either virginal saints or predatory seducers.
The only way to become a good heroic strong man (BSD) is to prove your virility by bedding lots of women. If a woman has sex with lots of men, she’s tainted as impure and a horrible cuck- hold.
Heterosexual men who have affairs are just heterosexual men who had affairs. But, the women with whom they have those affairs quickly get labelled with another term, mistress, one for which there is no effective male equivalent in English.
Men can be can euphemistically be called:
a Cad, dandy, philanderer, Lothario, flirt, ladies’ man, playboy, Romeo, seducer, rake, roué, debauchee, womaniser, Casanovas, pants man, Ladies’ man, Lothario, Lad..
Similar activities pejoratively call women:
sluts, hussy, nympho, puta, tart, tramp, skank, strumpet, trollop, harlot, scarlet woman, coquette, flirt, seducer, siren, cockhold, tease, vamp, temptress, seductress, enchantress, femme fatale, cock teaser….
Authors Kate Burridge and Howard Manns Lecturers in Linguistics, Monash University on May 10, 2021 write about why language matters in the gender debate.
There has been much debate recently about the way women who work in our federal parliament are treated. This discussion has highlighted that society continues to place very different values on the way women and men behave.
Language – as a behaviour – holds a mirror up to these values. And changing the way we think about language is an important step toward changing the way we think about gender.
Smoke-and-mirror fixes for folksy sneer winces
Folk wisdom provides a dizzying array of misleading accounts of how women communicate, many of them riddled with sexism.
Proverbs tell us:
“women’s tongues are like lambs’ tails; they are never still”.
But research tells us men talk and interrupt more – especially when they’re speaking to women.
It’s hard to stop the proverb and folk juggernaut once it gets started. It’s much easier to tell tales. And these are tales of linguistic problems, particularly for women in the workplace. Descriptions like “shrill”, “hysterical”, “scold”, “emotional” – the list goes on – speak to the wider truth that women’s language is policed more aggressively and condemned more readily than men’s.
British TV producer Gordon Reece reputedly mused “the selling of Margaret Thatcher had been put back two years” with the broadcasting of Question Time, as “she had to be at her shrillest to be heard over the din”.
More recently, Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton’s raised voice made her sound “shrill” and “too much”. And, of course, closer to home, Tony Abbott called Prime Minister Julia Gillard “shrill and aggressive”. Gillard suffered an onslaught of criticism for her accent and non-standard English, whereas Bob Hawke was celebrated for his.
Australian linguist Lauren Gawne also pointed to other features condemned in Gillard’s language, including sentence-final prepositions, passive voice and over-abundant adverbs. These are all features widely used by other politicians, and indeed by English speakers generally.
Sadly, the response to linguistic judgments seems to be a desire to “fix” women’s language. All kinds of advice literature instruct on how to replace these undesirable ways of speaking and writing with better ones.
Thatcher is probably the best-known example of someone who underwent a complete linguistic makeover. She famously altered her accent and her delivery and deepened her voice by nearly half the average difference in pitch between male and female voices.
In 2015, a Gmail plug-in (Just Not Sorry) was developed largely with women in mind. Like a grammar or spell checker, it highlighted for correction such features as hedging expressions like just, I think and sorry. The development of the Just Not Sorry plug-in was well-intentioned — it emerged from a networking event at which women worried words like these made them look like pushovers.
But quick fixes like the Just Not Sorry plug-in don’t engage with the broader issue that society shouldn’t be policing women’s language. Moreover, it doesn’t stop to consider that so-called women’s conversational styles — found in many studies to be more co-operative, polite and collaborative — might lead to better outcomes in the workplace.
Baronet, King Kong and the dame in the creek: what words tell us about society
“Shrill” hints at an English lexicon that does not reflect kindly on women. A lexicon is not an inanimate beast, but rather a social one. The social beast shines through in this Australian schoolyard chant:
Boys are strong,
like King Kong,
Girls are weak,
chuck ’em in the creek.
And the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “sex” highlights the corresponding linguistic imbalance. Here women are referred to as the “weaker”, “fairer”, “gentler” and “softer” sex, while men are the “stronger”, “sterner”, “rougher” and “better sex”. However, we might mention on an optimistic note that the adjectives associated with men are now listed as “rare”.