By Caitlin Littleton
Hello again, readers! Today, we’re going to begin a discussion on how different words in the English language are telling us more than what we’re actually talking about. Now, that sentence looks confusing, doesn’t it? All I mean by it is that there is often a hidden meaning, or subtext, when we use common words. Who decided these words? How have they been used in the past? What do they mean to us now? What do these words indicate about our culture and society? Many of the answers to these questions have to do with the really complicated questions pertaining to gender, race, class, and many other issues. Today, we will focus on gender. Historically, men have been in power, which means that men have had a higher impact on the use of language than women or non-binary folks. This affects both how we talk and how we think, but, with a little bit of thought, we can change these preconceptions.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that many words in the English language are very “gendered.” I bet you can think of some off the top of your head; I know I can: MailMAN, FireMAN, and MANkind are just a few examples. What do these words tell you about who is important in society? To me, it says that only men can do these things, and that the important folks in question are male. Of course, women and girls can do these jobs just as well and participate in society just as equally as any man, and most people these days recognize that. Our language, however, still doesn’t reflect that. Another thing you may not think about are the non-binary people that this language also hurts. Changing the words we use can go a long way towards making people of all gender identities feel welcome here at Frontier. Believe it or not, there are some small, everyday steps that we can take to make this idea a reality. The one we’re going to talk about today is avoiding using “-man” as a descriptor or suffix.
Avoid using “-man” as a descriptor or suffix to words.
This one goes back to those examples I thought of in the previous paragraph, particularly mailMAN and fireMAN. I think we all know that there are women and non-binary folks that can and do work in these fields. Plus, there are already words and terms that exist that we can use instead! Postal worker and firefighter are gender neutral terms we could use for mailMAN and fireMAN. Using these instead allows for a deeper inclusion of all genders and a suspension of our assumptions regarding who can do these jobs. Using the word MANkind subconsciously enforces the idea that men are superior to other genders and can serve to exclude women and non-binary folks from history. Instead, we can use humankind, which allows us more space for recognizing the importance and accomplishments of all genders.
These changes can also affect our school community. By switching to gender neutral language, we let the people we speak with know that we welcome all kinds of people, no matter their gender. When these people happen to be nonbinary, it might make them feel safe enough to tell you their gender identity. Frontier should be a place where it is possible for all students, faculty, and staff to feel completely safe to be themselves, and, while we’re on the right track, we still have some steps to take! It starts with YOU!
I’m going to end this article with a list of gendered words and their alternatives. It is by no means comprehensive, but I hope it helps to get you started and thinking!
- Folks, folx, or everybody instead of guys or ladies/gentlemen
- People instead of man/men
- Member of Congress instead of Congressman
- Councilperson instead of councilman/councilwoman
- First year student instead of Freshman
- Machine-made, artificial, or synthetic instead of man made
- Parent instead of mother/father
- Sibling instead of brother/sister
- Nibling instead of niece or nephew
- Child instead of son/daughter
- Kiddo instead of boy/girl
- Partner or spouse instead of boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife
- Flight attendant instead of steward/stewardess
- Server instead of waiter/waitress
- Salesperson or sales representative instead of salesman/saleswoman