Language controls more than we know. Although culture may change and progress, we are still controlled by the English language, and this often keeps women from progressing as much as we could. The differences in language between boys and girls is something that begins at a very young age. For example, as a little girl I loved playing with my Veterinarian Barbie, who wore a short white skirt, nurse’s shirt, and hat. She had blonde hair, long legs, and big blue eyes. My friends and I would play with our Barbies, braiding their hair and playing make-believe with them. My brother, on the other hand, played with Pokemon and baseball cards, often trading them with his friends and trying to build the best roster. While I was playing with my friends and trying to make our dolls and ourselves look more visually appealing, my brother and his friends were competing with one another and engaging in pretend battles, always trying to win. Looking back on the way I was raised, I was not at all surprised by the statistics found in Sheila McAuliffe’s article about how gendered language affects children, as shown in fictional stories written by them. It stated (p. 307) that 55% of the boys’ stories had a protagonist who was tested to perform and avoid failure, 82% of their stories had a contest, and 0% violated social norms or ever felt fearful or embarrassed. Strength and self-righteousness are qualities that boys hold in high regard, while girls are taught to be fragile, gracious, and inclusive.
Females are taught as well that they can’t speak strongly, that they are not allowed to assert their will as much as a male. When we talked in the discussion about how much girls say the word “like” when telling a story or making an assertion, it was easy to hear how much more often we say it than boys. By saying the word “like,” girls are second guessing themselves and softening their assertion in order to make themselves sound less aggressive or (a personal favorite) ‘pushy’. Girls are taught to stay on the sidelines while the men take care of the hard work. This causes us to look for validation when making an assertion (asking it in the manner of a question) and making statements with less confidence than our male counterparts. Ever listen up in a Govs classroom? Many girls in the class stay silent and are reluctant to put forward their ideas and experiences while many boys are ready to speak up and confidently shout an answer.
We discussed that the derogatory terms geared toward women are often aimed at 1.) their sexuality or 2.) their ‘place’. I once read an article about how a women in a place of power in the workforce is many times more likely to be called “bossy” and/or “pushy” while a man is rather referred to as “intense” or “a leader.” When a woman is called bossy, she is being referred at as someone who does not really know what she is talking about, someone who does not care about the opinions of others, a person who and holds herself in a high regard. A man in the place of power is looked at as the leader, someone who is well informed, inclusive, and strong-willed.
How much better would the world become if we just changed the way we spoke to young girls? What if, instead of encouraging them to just be soft spoken, inclusive, and helpful, we taught them the importance of confidence, leadership, and strength of will? I guarantee we would see a dramatic rise in women as CEOs, politicians, and lawyers. Would women still be looked at as ‘bossy’ or would we see them as true leaders? Just as much, we should teach boys to be more than confident, athletic, and self righteous, but add the importance of emotion, sensitivity, and inclusion. Women are still making major strides toward equality, but if we learn to progress ourselves along with the English language, I believe tremendous things can happen.