Sexism is a widespread issue in the contemporary world. Unfortunately, some of the perpetrators are not aware that they are sexist because they have been brought up in a tolerant society that values machismo and chauvinism. Apparently, sexism has infiltrated the writing arena and writers continue to practice it in their writings and language. Broadly, sexist language involves the use of words that disgrace, humble, ignore, or stereotype people of a particular gender. Unfortunately, women suffer greatly from sexist language. The following are ways to avoid sexist language.
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The central antidote to sexist language is the use of epicene. Epicene primarily underscores the use of non-gendered language (West & Turner, 2009). The use of epicene appreciates the application of gender-neutral language. In writing and talking, one should apply, where possible, gender-neutral pronouns and nouns as opposed to gender-specific ones. For instance, instead of using the word ‘businessman’, which conventionally refers to both men and women in business, one should use the word ‘businessperson’.
In addition, instead of saying ‘dear sir’ while addressing an unknown person, it is advisable to use ‘dear sir/madam’. The inclusion of the phrase ‘sir/madam’ neutralizes any sexist connotations carried in the word ‘sir’ when used alone.
On the same note, when citing people generally, one should apply plural pronouns. In this case, instead of using ‘he or she’, the best way to write or speak is to use ‘they’. In this case, if the individuals referred to are from a particular gender or from any gender, they will not feel offended for being referred to inappropriately. Similarly, when referring to persons individually, it is prudent to use words that reflect parallelism in terms of gender. For instance, instead of saying, “I now pronounce Mike and Mary man and wife”, it would make sense to say – ‘I now pronounce Mike and Mary husband and wife”. The parallel of man is woman and so is husband to wife. Unfortunately, the society has been cultured to refer to these terms involuntarily, but people can learn in the quest to eliminate sexism in language.
In cases where one is uncertain of the marriage status of a woman being referred to, it is advisable to stick to ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ Moreover, the word ‘madam’ would suit well in such cases. The word female has generated heated debates of late and the best advice is to avoid it where possible. In cases where it has to be used, it should be used as an adjective but not noun.
The most radical approach to combating sexism in language is to restructure the English language and ban all gender-specific words. In this evolutionary approach, the word ‘mankind’ should be replaced with ‘humankind’ so that women do not feel stereotyped when being referred to using ‘mankind’. On the same note, the word man should be banned and be replaced by ‘human’. This move is likely to be costly, but it is worth. Furthermore, the word ‘bossy’ should be censored as it depicts girls and women negatively. The word ‘bossy’ should be replaced with a kinder word like ‘assertive’ because, conventionally, women or girls referred to as ‘bossy’ are simply assertive and they know who they are. They are champions of equality and they should not be punished for standing for what many would wish, but they cannot for lack of courage, means, or reason.
West, R., & Turner, L. (2009). Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making Choices in Changing Times. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Web.