I have always seen language and grammar as really important aspects of communication. I also consider myself feminist and ‘woke’ (although this phrase makes me cringe) with all the complications those terms can come with. Despite all this, a couple of weeks ago my partner came home from work and told me about a meeting with a building project manager. I asked about ‘him’ to which my partner replied it was a woman. I was so devastated that I had assumed that role would be filled by a man and also that I needed to gender what I said in the first place.
So why is this a problem? The more we reinforce dated stereotypes of certain sexes filling certain job positions, the slower forward movement and positive change is. We teach the next generation that men are engineers and women are secretaries and so forth. This either leads to people not pursuing certain careers because it’s not for them or too dominated by the opposite sex or it leads to feels of being other, being different, of being abnormal. None of this is beneficial for anyone.
The next aspect is why we need to gender our speech in the first place. The use of labels is a topic so very I’m fascinated in and one I’m not going to get deep into here but the way we make sense of the world is to give things names, labels, identifiers. If we can classify something it fits into our expectations of what we know about the world. The problem with labels is that they negate all the in between stuff. They’re often very binary and miss all the other options on the spectrum. By gendering what we say we miss out all those who don’t identify with those specific labels. I don’t know anything about that building project manager. They could be any ethnicity, any gender, any sexuality, any anything. Who am I to impose anything on them. It is not for me to label. It is for them to identify by specific labels which work for them or maybe not identify with any at all.
It’s so easy to slip into what we’re used to, what we’re programmed with. But it’s so important to try to step out of that comfort zone and be a bit more aware of our language.
Next time you’re talking about someone maybe try to use ‘they’, ‘them’ or ‘their’. When talking about who someone is in a relationship with say ‘partner’ or ‘significant other’ or many of the other different versions of this.
Let’s try and be more open and inclusive with what we say. It’s not easy and I fall into old ways of speaking too often but I’m trying. Let’s try a little harder not to push our own expectations and labels onto others.