Language is both ubiquitous and manipulative, a combination that should make us all a little skeptical of the role it plays in our lives. The existence of gendered words and tones are perpetuated by society as they’re passed on from member to member—consider it a cycle of cultural inheritance. As young as the age of two, a child can be “placed” into a gender, can be given a role in society by the utterance of a few simple phrases and a few knee-jerk reactions. Girls are constantly judged and appreciated based on their physical appearance, but this appraising is often expressed via select words such as “cute” or “pretty” throughout childhood and perhaps “beautiful” or “attractive” in later years. Instead of being identified in a way that adds substance to their character, women are only individuals when it comes to body type or facial features. Stanford’s study of various business performance reviews concludes in part that only men are acknowledged specifically for their expertise. Women, on the other hand, are consistently evaluated as part of a team or in some other community-oriented context which avoids attaching meaningful adjectives like “innovative,” “industrious,” or “intelligent” directly to the woman being assessed. This prioritizing of the female figure is only more apparent when commonly used insults are examined. Both men and women can be sworn at using words that correspond to female sexuality. Take “pussy” and “cunt” for example; they emphasize and vulgarize a woman’s body while also reinforcing the notions that it’s not only acceptable for women to be objectified, but that they should be ashamed of their anatomy. In this light, arguments of feminism that focus on embracing the female body are clearly justified as they’re attempts to check our society’s gender inequalities that stem from the use of language.
“Genderlects” are also prevalent in writing, particularly the writing of young children who are more easily influenced by their surroundings as opposed to their own insight. “Females are taught at a young age that they can’t speak strongly, that they are not allowed to assert their will as much as a male,” Lakoff states in regards to verbal communications, however the same is true about nonverbal communications. McAuliffe notes that “girls criticize peers who try to stand out or appear better. They emphasize displaying similarities, matching experiences, making connections, and negotiating relationships.” These themes appear in much of the writing analyzed by McAuliffe, supporting the claim that females can’t “assert their will,” that they’re expected to be reserved, humble, and above all else, good girls. The fact that the stereotype of deferential women isn’t upheld solely by men is a testament to the power of gendered language. Women have the right to be confident and decisive, but then why did only 10% of McAuliffe’s observed second graders write about protagonists acting alone with happy consequences? Language is essential in any society, but it also reinforces gender inequalities without us even knowing it half the time. In order to fully understand the scale of feminism, one must be aware of gendered language and its pervasive influence.