Third Wave Of Feminism - Feminist Language

The ability of language to influence reality – or at least how we think about reality – has been recognized by theorists from a variety of fields. Feminists are no different. 

Overtly sexist, inadvertently patriarchal, or symbolically hegemonic language are all possibilities. 

  • Some liberal and socialist feminists have advocated for reforms in public language to promote gender neutrality and non-discrimination, while postmodern feminists have proposed l'écriture féminine – feminine writing – and new forms of linguistic logic to counter phallocentrism. 
  • Other feminist schools of thought provide their own analyses and suggestions for combating sexism in language and thinking. 
  • Overtly sexist language is pretty simple to spot, but the issue is that some sexist language has been reappropriated for various purposes in situations where the meaning has been altered. 

Consider the term "pimp." A pimp is a person who exploits and often abuses women, men, and children by selling them as prostitutes, which is a behavior that all feminists oppose. 

  • In recent years, however, the term "pimp" has taken on new connotations. 
  • It's used to describe vehicle upgrades and as a stand-in for anything "amazing" or "great" (two words that also have multiple slang meanings). 
  • Is every usage of the term pimp linked to sexist exploitation, or can it have neutral or mild connotations? 

Adjectives used to describe male and female youngsters are another example of blatantly sexist language. 

  • Girls are delicate, gentle, pleasant, quiet, and lovely. Boys are energetic, powerful, rugged, and serious. 
  • Adult females are often addressed as ‘Miss' or ‘Mrs,' depending on their marital status, while adult males are addressed simply as ‘Mr.' Masculine and female professions have different names, with the feminine being a diminutive of the male, as in actress/actor, waitress/waiter, and stewardess/steward. 
  • Many of these diminutives are becoming obsolete as a result of the work of feminist campaigners. 
  • The use of masculine pronouns to describe a member of a historically male-dominated industry, such as "A professor constantly has his scholarship on his mind," is an example of unintentionally patriarchal language. 
  • When the sex of the subject is unknown, the apparent gender neutrality of using the pronoun "he" reflects the patriarchal social connections of the time. 

Changing gender dynamics in mainly male professions necessitates a shift in how we refer to such professions. 

  • Patronymic names, which follow the father's line, are common and frequently represent a lengthy series of dads and sons, such as the name "Johnson," which derives from "John's son." 
  • The grammatical patterns of queries asked to women vs those posed to males may also be shown to be inadvertently patriarchal. 

For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau recommends asking boys and girls two distinct kinds of questions on moral behavior. 

  • The good of an action is questioned of boys, whereas the impact of an action is asked of females. 
  • This may seem harmless, but when we consider that Rousseau prioritizes the intentions of moral acts above the results, the many questions indicate a perception of women's inferiority. 

Postmodern feminists believe that language is hegemonic, dominating, or phallocentric/phallogocentric as a symbolic system. 

According to Jacques Lacan (1901–1981), society maintains itself via the 'Symbolic Order,' which consists of rituals and signals. 

Language is used to teach this Symbolic Order. 

  • In other words, language teaches us how to function in society, what roles are acceptable for us, and who we are. 
  • Luce Irigaray, on the other hand, claims that the Symbolic Order is phallocentric, that it is a male order, and that women appear in it as the'masculine feminine' or women-as-men-understand-women-to-be. 
  • Looking to Lacan's evolutionary stage previous to the Symbolic Order, the Imaginary, Irigaray argues for a liberation from phallocentrism and the Symbolic Order. 
    • She argues for the development of a female language that is based on feminine sexual pleasure rather than objectivity as a goal. 
    • In her work, This Sex Which is Not One, Irigaray challenges the singularity of phallocentric thinking by using the metaphor of female sexual pleasure and the diversity of female sexual organs. 
    • Her book's title alone tells something about her project: this is a sex that isn't "one." Hélène Cixous, a postmodern feminist, proposed a concept of feminine writing, or writing women's bodies, based on the logic of plurality and fluidity as it relates to women's embodiment and sexuality. 

Female writing is non-linear and unafraid of inconsistency. 

  • It opposes the male hegemonic notion of language and logic, in other words. 
  • There are a variety of approaches to confronting and altering sexist language. 
  • The most frequent methods include using gender-neutral language and avoiding sexist language, although some feminist linguists have also looked at women's communication habits or patterns. 

Women, for example, often add a tag question to declarative statements, while men prefer to say things more authoritatively,

For example, woman: ‘The economy is extremely terrible today, isn't it?' vs. man: ‘The economy is horrible'. 

  • This may be attributable in part to the similar trend that Carol Gilligan saw in the evolution of care ethics. 
  • Men may be expressing their knowledge claims and faking impartiality while women are trying to establish and sustain connections. 
  • Avoiding the tag question or other kinds of hedging in communication settings may be one method for women to demonstrate their assertiveness and authority. 

Feminists have already had a profound impact on language and reality, and we have every reason to think they will continue to do so in innovative and exciting ways.

You may also want to read more about Feminism and Activism here.