Knapsacking Up: Language

I Am Male… I can assume my own language will include and represent me

As I struggled through the GPA destroyer known as “Spanish Class,” one thing became abundantly clear. Unfortunately, it was not “Learning will always be easy” or “I can express basic competency in anything.”

No, it was that the Spanish language is sexist as hell.

Every word has a specific gender, male or female (It’s not very transsexual-friendly either, I guess). A group of mixed gender composition is always male. 50,000 women are overpowered by one male, presumably through the INCREDIBLE POWER OF THE PENIS!(TM) The word for “wife” is the same as the word for “handcuff.”

You get the idea.

American English isn’t nearly as sexist, although there are still too many phrases and terms that don’t really have a feminine equivalent.

Most of the problems with our modern language can be traced back to our founding documents. There, in the Declaration of Independence, is the noble proposition that “all men are created equal.” To be fair, Jefferson was talking about White, propertied males, if that makes anyone feel better.

And don’t get me started on the religious “He.” I’m sure the eternal, omnipotent creator of everything that exists fits neatly within the confines of our gender system.

From these basic inequities come problems in every other aspect of our society.

We have always elected Congressmen, at first literally, now just figuratively. “Congresswoman” works just fine for specific people, but what about members of Congress as a whole? Congresspeople? Ew. Members of Congress? What are we? British? There really isn’t a great gender-neutral term.

Every company has a Chairman of the Board. Chairwoman? Chairperson? We are so used to “chairman” that we just keep using it. Again, there’s no great gender-neutral term.

I have spent the last five years unsuccessfully trying to come up with a gender-neutral phrase for the start of a pregnancy. Women “get pregnant.” Clearly, we understand that a man was a part of that process somewhere along the line, but there is no phrase that implicates men in the care-taking process. Women “get pregnant,” so women get the problem.

Society could survive a few language-related idiosyncrasies if they didn’t bear such heavy costs. When we picture a Chairman of the Board, we picture a male. When we picture a Congressman, we picture a male. When we talk about pregnancy, we see it as a totally female thing. Our perceptions have a way of becoming reality.

We can’t imagine what we lack the words to describe. You can’t tell me there is no relationship between “Chairman” or “Congressman” and the lack of women in boardrooms or Washington. You can’t tell me there’s no relationship between “getting pregnant” and the total lack of support our society provides pregnant women. Until the language we use is fixed, our society will remain broken.

Unless you are a male, like me. We were created equal.

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2 thoughts on “Knapsacking Up: Language

  1. Impregnated, maybe? To me, it implies that some other actor was involved besides the one carrying the zygote/fetus. But yeah, wording affects our view of reality. That’s actually why I like how Spanish phrases some things. Age, for instance. In Spanish, you’re asking how many years a person has. In English, you’re asking how old they are. Some people even try to phrase their answer as “XX years young” because of how that is phrased. English also asks how tall a person is too. That’s not meant to dismiss the gender biases, but it shows that there are others we don’t always think about.

    • Hmmm… “Impregnated” definitely gets across two parties. On the other hand, it’s also a thing you do “to” someone, rather than a thing that two people choose to do together.

      Great point with the other ideas too. I actually really like the idea of “having” years or height.

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