Gender, Language and
Week 2:2
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Sexism & Language
A. Connotations
governor – governess
master – mistress
patron – matron
sir – madam
bachelor –
Word Pairs
brothers & sisters
husband & wife
boys & girls
hostess & host
queen & king
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Eve & Adam
Sexism & Language
Generic He/Man
• policeman
• spokeman
• manpower
• Social Man
• mankind
• workman’s compensation
• “Man the oars”
• he, him, his
Language& sexism wk 2.2
• Part A. Connotations
• Words associated with men appear on the left,
those with women on the right. What does each
word connote to you?
• Power, authority, positively valued while for
• What did spinster mean originally? Semantic
Derogation over time? Word becomes
associated with women often acquires semantic
characteristics congruent with social
stereotypes and evaluations – women as a
group (PM Smith in Renzetti & Curran).
Language& sexism wk 2.2
What do these connotations say abt the status
of women in society?
Generally men associated with positive things,
women negative things?
“Shrew” from the name of a small, but vicious,
animal is defined in most dictionaries as “an
ill-tempered scolding woman.” A shrewd
businessman has different connotation,
“clever, discerning awareness” .
Patron of the arts vs a matron who supervises
a public institution or simply an old woman.
Would you rather be an old master (someone
who has achieved consummate ability in your
field) or an old mistress
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Word Pairs
• Read each word pair. What if you reverse them? Sound
incorrect, awkward?
• Traditionally placing the female term after the male term
signifies something? Status of women? “ the supreme
Being…is in languages Masculine, in as much as the
masculine Sex is the superior and more excellent” (quoted
in Baron, 1986)
• Linguistic Sexism is the larger problem of semantic
• Linguistic sexism – ways in which a language devalues
members of one sex (women), defining women’s “place” in
society unequally & ignoring women. Example: titles of
respect for men, Mr which reveals nothing about relationship
to women. While women being addressed as Miss or Mrs –
define women in terms of their relationships to men.
Husband & wife having Ph.Ds-commonly adddressed as Dr
& Mrs. How is a woman’s
identity subsumed?
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Generic He/Man
• What image comes to your mind when reading
the words?
• Do you visualize women, women and men
together, or men alone? Only men
• “he/man” language frequently results in “cognitive
confusion” or misunderstanding
• How can sexist language be changed?
Individuals (you & me), organizations
• Ms for Miss & Mrs, Alternating the order of
feminine & masculine nouns and pronouns
• She/he, or he and she or they for he/man
• Police officer, spokesperson, businessperson
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Do Women & Men Speak Different Language
• Deborah Tannem (1990,1994 a&b) argues women & men
are of different speech communities
• Different communication styles and goals.
• Women & men speak different genderlects just as people
from cultures speak different dialects.
• Women speak & hear a language of intimacy & connection.
Men uses language of status & independence.
• Therefore, when women & men converse, the conversations
often become product of two different cultures resulting in
• Some studies using large sample found few communication
differences among gender, but both women & men
communication patterns and styles are influenced by
situational factors: sex of the receiver, the context, the
perceived status of both speaker and receiver.
Language& sexism wk 2.2
On listening reactions, few differences between
female and male listeners except female gave
more “active understanding” responses (explicit
acknowledgment of the speaker’s feelings) when
the speaker was a female friend. Is
communication an interactive process affected
by a variety of factors of which gender is only
Many researchers observed gender inequality
characterizes much daily communication,
reflecting differences in men’s and women’s
life experiences, social status, power (Henley
et al., 1985)
Language& sexism wk 2.2
In cross-sex conversations, men are found to
do more of the talking which in many
situations give them more opportunity to
express their opinions (business meetings).
Plus men have more success than women in
getting the conversation focused on topics.
Listeners of both sexes more actively attend to
men when they speak than to women speakers
(McConnell-Ginet, 1989).
Non verbal communication of men in cross-sex
interaction – dominant. They control more
space than women, they invade women’s
personal space more than women invade
men’s by standing closer to them, and by
touching and staring at them more.
Language& sexism wk 2.2
• Women tend to avert their eyes when stared
at by men, but they also smile and laugh
more than men whether they are happy or
not, a gesture viewed as both social and
• Research on same-sex conversation
showed that in all female groups, women
talk more than men do in all male groups.
• Men prefer to talk more about sports, work;
women prefer to indulge more about
personal topics (Bischoping, 1993).
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Women conversations are less individualistic
and more dynamic than men’s conversation
in same-sex interaction. Women enlarge on
and acknowledge one another’s contributions,
respond to conversationalist’s attempts to
introduce topics..
Although interruptions are frequent in
women’s conversations, these are typically
supportive rather than aggressive
Women’s conversations are being
stereotyped as gossiping whereas men’s
conversations with another are regarded as
more serious and important.
Language& sexism wk 2.2
• Wld these negative traits and
consequences of communication
differences associated exclusively
with women have to do with men
having greater power to define
acceptable standards of
communication? Obviously,
women’s communications are
considered not only different from
men’s, but also typically inferior
(Lakoff, 1990)
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Is the Situation Changing ?
• Some evidence the situation may be
• Berryman-Fink (1994)-no difference in how
women & men (sups, peers, or
subordinates) rated the communication
competency of women in the work place. In
self-evaluations, women rated their
communication competency lower than
others rated men. Women need to
develop greater self confidence in
certain communication settings.
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Increase Visibility: 7 secrets of
successful women (Donna
Brooks & Lynn Brooks
Language& sexism wk 2.2
The former president of Bryn Mawr
College advises taking an interest in
wider business areas that will carry
you into situations with more sr
people. She recommends taking
advantage of teams & committees,
volunteering & engaging with
people socially. She sees the need
to develop partnerships..
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes
Norton agrees saying that it can be
difficult for a woman to speak up in
a room—especially in a political
environment. It takes some
gumption to jump in. But women
are bringing in a certain culture,
how they behave.
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Karen, now president of a large
publishing company, wanted to be
recognized earlier in her career.
However, she realizes that there were
many ingrained ideas within
organizations. Men talk to men more
often. Men’s names are mentioned in
decisions more often. They are just
more visible. Women are not often as
deft at self-promotion
Language& sexism wk 2.2
Dianne, A Director, Agrees That
Women Need To Take Advantage
Of Opportunities-even In Places
Like Hallways & Elevators-and Talk
To Sr Managers Whenever
Possible..As A Manager,
Management By Walking Around Is
Also Important To Her
Language& sexism wk 2.2
A friend of the author at Merck feels that femininity
brings something to the workplace that didn’t exist
before, such as higher-level teamwork & team units
that resemble the family structure. She says women
do it all the time at home. Older women may still “look
like masculine leaders” because that’s how they
succeeded, & that have maintained that image.
However, at Merck, there’s a group of women who
purposely wear red jackets at team meetings, to
introduce color into the group & to show an easy
leadership style, but one of authority. The color you
wear may depend on the type of meeting & the
authority you want to show. Subtle details in
appearance can mean
a lot.
Language& sexism wk 2.2

Gender & Communication - University of Lethbridge