Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Gendered Language

            One of the most interesting pieces of both the articles we read and Mr. Robertson’s presentation to me was the ubiquity of gendered language. In the day after the talk, I have noticed a lot more of the gendered language. It pervades our vocabulary in such a subtle fashion that we are far less likely to notice it than other, more direct ways of asserting gender norms. As the way we frame most of our interactions with other people, language has extraordinary power and it was interesting to see the incredible effect it had on people. I found our discussion of the words “lady” and “gentleman” particularly interesting largely because they were two words I had not thought about much before. While I had certainly heard some discussion of gendered insults before, I had almost never heard about these two words, and perhaps that is where they get much of their power from. It may seem fairly obvious to us that calling a girl a slut or a whore is sexist, but the idea that telling her to act ladylike is equally destructive was new to me. The fact that this language is not outwardly hurtful makes it far subtler, even if it has similarly negative results. The other thing that struck me was the impossibility of avoiding gendered language. Even in second grade, many children already seemed to subscribe to gender norms, and I think a large part of the reason for that was they had been taught to act one way by language.

            I also found the idea that women focused more on details than men, especially as young children, fascinating. The idea that this focus originated from gender norms of women talking about more trivial things was interesting, but I had trouble seeing it as a full explanation for such a complex behavior. One alternative explanation, and one that might work in tandem with the first, is that women are expected to be more observant as part of a domestic role and as the gender who are expected to focus more on emotional connections. I also found it interesting that something that is likely caused by negative expectations had the positive result of often making women, especially younger women, better writers than their male counterparts. It was extraordinary to me that something with such negative origins could have such positive results.

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