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Education and Knowledge

GENDER DISPARITIES AND THE POWER OF WORDS AND LANGUAGE

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Objective critical thinking should be taught as a compulsory subject from the age of 5 right through to our college years in order to enable us to step back and objectively view, and thus question, what is fed to us daily. Mass media, being a particular problem in its dehumanizing of minorities, devaluing women, and applauding the 1%, inaccurately reflects the real society we live in. If everyone thought objectively we could dismantle the mass media, and and other systematic processes of oppression, such as the patriarchy, an outdated system we have lived under to service the dinosaurs and oppress the true majority: women.

I’ve been reading one particular book recently entitled Critical Applied Linguistics by Alastair Pennycook. I have found it fascinating, frustrating and important.  By teaching critical thinking and critical literacy we can teach youngsters to consume media with a cautious eye; we can inform people to remain aware of the power of words in language. Such knowledge could teach “a compassion for minorities being repressed”. Having an objective awareness could shape the way we see ourselves, reform our media entirely, and empower us to question the education system. Thinking back to high school, the subjects taught and the curriculum followed included learning materials from the poems and literature of men and the theories and ideologies of men. Physical education divided us by citing rugby as a game girls shouldn’t and couldn’t play and sex education focused on male pleasure alone; I had no idea my body could do things too. In other words, only men from our history were important, and what they had to say shaped and reinforced our education. I never saw myself represented. I cannot possibly imagine what that is like for people of colour or different religions or ethnic backgrounds. But all of this, I feel, is insidiously linked with the power of words and language.

As a woman the odds are against me if I want to be an outspoken, free spirited individual. I know there are things in place to prevent me from climbing the career ladder. If I am demanding, if I express my opinion, I will (and have) been labelled as “bossy” or “a bitch.”  Such pejorative words devalue me as a person and reduce me to nothing but my body parts. You would never hear of a male CEO being called bossy. In these situations he would be referred to as “a stud” or “he takes no prisoners.”

The guilty feminist podcast curated by Sophie Hagen and Deborah Francis-White is a diverse podcast I could not recommend highly enough, and they speak about these issues of double standards within the English language.

Feminist podcasts or women-led programs, or panel shows with minorities and diversity are not given prime time airing on radio and television. This is because these shows do not comply with the agenda that the people at the top are wishing to spread. They are aware of the power of language and they want to oppress anyone with an opposing view, thus rendering them ineffective by making diverse TV shows inaccessible or removing funding for them. Were they more readily available, more questions (and eyebrows) might be raised; more challenges to words used in conversation and classroom discourse might arise.

Living in Japan, one can see the strength behind words here. Articles that demonize young, sexually active women, that hound Japanese women to lose weight before they get fat, books and magazines that give Japanese women unrealistic standards of beauty to achieve and manuals that instruct Japanese women on how to have beautiful mannerisms. Not to mention the pressure put on Japanese men to be strong and emotionless. If you look at Scandinavia, gender equality remains high and prevalent in their society and it is suggested by myself and other colleges of mine back in the UK that this is due to their relatively neutral language in that it does not separate the genders quite so harshly. In Japanese and indeed English, we emphasis gender roles with words that divide us; “waiter” and “waitress” and “actor” and “actress.” Such issues are found in the Japanese language also, which I believe is harmful through the internalization of misogyny, but also in shaping the way we think and view ourselves and each other. Language conditioning in such gender-biased languages, as the ones aforementioned, condition us from an early age as part of the socialization process to believe there are differences, and that weakness lies in the differences. But critical thinking teaches us to view differences as something to be adored not abhorred, or questions us to consider if there are indeed any differences at all. As the Sapir-Wharf theory suggests, language shapes our thinking, and such thought processes could be difficult to unravel. In thinking, why does there need to be a distinction in the occupations of women and men? Why is there a need to express if the writer, pilot or surgeon is female? We must consider that if we put female before surgeon, or lady before doctor, we are instantly devaluing the role and suggesting that the job won’t be carried out as successfully as if it were a man, thus the reinforcing continues. It’s the stereotype of “women make bad drivers” operating on a larger scale in these languages. Whereas, at least in Sweden, they see such gender separating words as “outdated” and even invented a gender neutral pronoun. If the language has words for three genders, people will “see” three genders; they will be more open and accepting of diversity, because their thinking is shaped by the very words they utter. By affecting language you can affect society.

Having an awareness of the power of words means that should you choose to, you can make change. I write for an independent record label called I’m not from London and when my boss was circulating said article on various social medias, he captioned it as written by “our girl in Tokyo”. This hit me in the gut. Girl? Girl refers to an 11-year-old child! And I know with absolute certainty that had a man written the exact same article, would not be referred to as “our boy.” I didn’t see that it was necessary to refer to my gender at all; I’m a writer. I procrastinated on messaging him, and when I did begin to write the message it started with “I’m really sorry to be that dick but…” I immediately deleted the first line. I contemplated. I realized several things were at play here that were preventing me from executing this message in the way I really wanted. Firstly, he is a man, and he is my boss, so the power imbalance is affecting me immediately. Secondly, why am I apologizing? I’ve done nothing wrong and as long as I phrase myself politely I might teach him something, since he is actually quite a nice guy. So, I simply said “I don’t think its necessary to refer to my gender at all, especially as a girl since I am a grown-ass woman, could you remove it please?” He totally understood and removed it immediately. It’s skills like this that I am reconditioning myself to learn, that I would urge you to learn, in order to stand up and be brave in areas such as the workplace or university campus in order to maintain that objective difference and to rarely take things at face value.

 

Author: Lauren Marie
Email:  laurenmarie@imnotfromlondon.com
What category best describes your article: Education and Knowledge
Author Bio: Lauren Marie is a vegan feminist goth studying Japanese and linguistics and currently resides in Tokyo. She also speaks Swedish, and will move to Stockholm next year to pursue a masters in Linguistic fields. She aspires to become a professor teaching English from a feminist and critical stance in the future. Lauren is also obsessed with music, writing reviews and curating playlists for an independent UK based record label.  She also writes poetry and is working on her first novel.
Link to social media:  https://www.instagram.com/femistopheles/ https://www.instagram.com/imnotfromlondon/

 

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