Being aware of our use of gendered language

Photo by Tyler Meuter

Before I continue with what I am about to say, I ask of my peers reading my article to refrain from calling me a radical feminist obsessed with politically correct culture or from asking me if I shave my armpits. The answers to both of the above are yes, I am a feminist who appreciates the differences present between others and yes, hygiene is important to me.

I hate gendered language. There you go. I said it. I think in a time where we live in a society that acknowledges political correctness, our conscious choice of language should follow suit.

I hope most of you know what gendered language is, but for those of you that do not, gendered language is defined to be favoring one gender over another, specifically the masculine over the feminine. By no means are masculine and feminine the only genders recognized in society; however, for the purposes of this editorial, which is meant to express my personal opinion on an issue, I will focus on these two since I am personally affected by each.

You may not even know that you are using gender-biased language, but addressing a group of individuals, consisting of men, women and other genders, as “hey guys!” is just one example of gendered language. Let me be perfectly clear: if there is a group of individuals who do not all identify as male, you should not be calling them “guys”. Unless someone has explicitly said they identify as male, do not assume they want to be addressed as one. I, for one, love being a woman, and I would like to be addressed with pronouns that recognize me as such.

Language is our major tool of communication, and how we choose to utilize it is essential to seeing progress in our society. If we continue to use systematically oppressive language, such as gender-biased pronouns, then we are allowing ourselves to fall into the pattern of devaluing any progress an oppressed group, such as those who identify with the feminine, have made.

Women and those who identify with the feminine have made monumental strides in achieving equality on most, but not all, levels of society (I am still holding out for you, equal pay), yet if we refuse to acknowledge women and the feminine for what they are, which is not “guys,” we are essentially undermining that progress by reaffirming the fact that we live in a male-dominated society.

You may be asking, “Okay, but what if my intention was not to oppress women and those who do not identify with the masculine, and I really just did not want to use the phrase ‘y’all’?” Great question. You probably were not aware that some language is considered to be sexist because we never talk about the fact that English, in addition to many other languages, is male-favored. It is not just males that I have seen address a collective group as “guys”; in fact, more times than not, I see many of my female peers addressing others as “guys”. That being said, now that my beautifully written and insightful editorial has brought the issue of gendered language to your attention, it would be in the best interest of everyone if you chose to be more conscious of how you address a group.

Unique to our language’s difficult grammar is its lack of gender-neutral pronouns that appeal to a single individual. I know I have personally seen many red marks on my English papers for referring to an individual as “they” rather than “he/she”, but the beauty of language is that is fluid, able to adapt to the whims of society.

We have the ability to change how we address others and how we communicate, so given this unique ability, why should we continue to use language that may be offensive to some? The issue of gendered language is not one where you can decide how you want to address someone because ultimately, the choice of how someone identifies and is addressed is up to “them.”