Are you accidently offensive with your language?

Women Rock MoneyTo celebrate International Women’s Day in 2018, I’m joining in with MamaFishSaves in #womenrockmoney, and writing a series of feminist posts, with a finance theme. Today’s topic is language, and how in the dysfunctional world of 2018 language is still used to oppress. Are you accidently offensive with your language? Sure you speak professionally, you only swear when it’s appropriate and avoid slurs. But how about the accidental gender and racial labels you inadvertently use, and the language you allow around you?

Use of the World Girl, Miss or Mrs

Male vs Female LanguageFirst, of course female children can be called girls. However fully grown humans of the female variety are women, not girls. Language matters here, as girls are juvenile women, implying they have not fully developed, and are not yet mature human beings. Grown ass women should not referred to as girls, unless you also religiously use boy instead of man. This is doubly true in a professional context, when staff are referred to as guys and girls, it gives an inherent bias to the men, as they are you know, grown up. Guys have grown from boys, but girls are you know, just girls. The phrase career girl – have you ever heard anyone called a career boy? Maybe Elon Musk? And girl boss – know any boy bosses? Mark Zuckerberg is certainly one.

Then onto titles. I’m not sure why companies such as dentists feels it’s necessary to know the marital status of females but not males? I’m a firm believer we should all be Ms, until we get Mr (married) and Master (unmarried) applied equally to all men. In a professional environment, you should always refer to a female by Ms, unless you have been asked not to. If you actually ask if people are a Miss or Mrs, think what that is saying? Do you also ask men if they are Mr or Master?

This links into the use of the world girl.  Boys are titled Master, then they grow into men at maturity, and are given the Mr title. Girls are titled Miss at birth, remain Miss at maturity and only become Mrs on marriage. Clearly this language is sending a lesson, that men are complete and mature at an arbitrary age, whereas women are only complete and mature when married. Do we as a society really want to be spreading this message?

Applying different adjectives to women and men

There are certain adjectives that are usually used to mock, and almost exclusively applied to women. The continued use of this language causes divisions between the sexes and thus ensues that we live in an unequal society. Men are described with one set of adjectives, and women another. Before using a word from the word-cloud below, think how you’d describe a male with these characteristics.


Words used to oppress women

Assuming a traditional nuclear family

Lots of language and phrases that are used everyday assume all families have two opposite sexed parents, where women are main caregivers and men are the main breadwinner. In 2018 this is not the case, and we need to be more encompassing of both gay and single parents. While society rages against single mums, we all know it takes two to tango, so why aren’t we raging against the deadbeat dads?

How many times do you refer to men babysitting their own kids? When you are looking after your own children, we call that parenting, not babysitting. One babysits others peoples kids. On the other hand, if men do stand up and look after their kids, they find themselves excluded. Some playgroups brand as mother and baby groups, instantly making men feel unwelcome.  Women do not automatically stop working when they have kids like in the 50’s and we need to encourage Dads to take on more childcare.

The opposite is also true, how many times does your language indicate that men should provide for their families? And that women should be caring and nurturing? As Liz at ChiefMomOfficer series on Breadwinner Moms shows, female breadwinners are not exactly rare. I feel we need to be normalising the female breadwinner, and encourage more and more women to step into these roles.

You participate and encourage mansplaining

Deeper than language itself, is the delivery of language. I’d describe the phenomenon of mansplaining as when a female describes an idea perfectly, then a male interrupts and repeats the same idea and then gets credit for it. You may think it’s a myth, or that women you know just don’t describe widget making that well in your office. Or you may be very lucky and never have experienced it. I’m of the belief that it is very common and deeply entrenched, and we need to take action to end it. If we experience it, we should all start to use phrases like those below when we come across occurrences of mansplaining.

  • “Hold on Steve, Erika was just saying that before you interrupted her. Erika can you continue?
  • “Mohammed, you are just repeating Jo’s point. We all understand Jo’s explanation. Do you have anything new to add in addition to Jo’s point?
  • “Roger, I agree Rita’s idea is excellent. Let’s use Rita’s idea to move forward and ensure she gets the credit for it”

The impact of this language

Taken individually, all these items looks small and inconsequential. A word here, a conversation there can’t be that harmful can it?  But combined together, they all form a system of oppression that ultimately leaves the female sex worse off. In 2018, white men occupy most of the power positions in government, education and business. The gender pay gap is real, with women receiving significantly less money than men on average. As part of #womenrockmoney we want to empower women to manage money, and the first step is being able to earn it.

My Utopian Future

Are you accidently offensiveThis is a world in which gender becomes irrelevant. Cis-gender and trans-gender seem like old fashioned labels, not to mention masculine and feminine which date back to before the Trump era. Positions of Power are equally shared in politics, business and the home. CEO’s are both female and male, as are world leaders and people in influential positions. A pregnant prime minister is the norm. A male CEO is asked how he balances his kids and his job. The gender pay gap is roughly equal, and it is thought of akin to slavery, that we let half the population be underpaid for so long. Parental leave is enforced, and men enjoy taking time off and spending time with their children. In fact, we’ve finally managed to get enough male nursery nurses and male carers into the professions.

My Realist Future

So in reality, words will be said, and promises will be made to change and make the world more equal. But will change happen? As history has shown, change to overcome oppression is gradual, and moves at a glacial pace. We all need to look at ourselves and be willing to change, and accept that we all have unconscious biases. If you are open enough to find your own biases, Harvard have some really good tests online.  We all need to look deep into ourselves, and then together #PressforProgress.

Over to you?

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Have you taken any unconscious bias tests?
  • You can checkout my Feminist Utopia Pinterest board below, please follow me, and let me know if you also want to contribute. The more the merrier.


4 comments on “Are you accidently offensive with your language?

  1. This is amazing! I really think the language we use to describe and talk about women can be so impactful on perception inside and outside. Meaning it defines our actions and roles we should take. I read this article on language in the workplace just a few days ago: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170329-the-hidden-sexism-in-workplace-language

    I am also participating in the movement. Excited to see your article for tomorrow.

    P.S. You are my new fav blogger!

    1. Hi Bethany, I am honoured to be your fav new blogger, but I think that’s too big a title! I loved that bbc article, there is so much hidden sexism in the working world. Looking forward to reading your article too, will be an epic day for feminist posts.

What do you think?