Sexism in the English Language


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In a time of war and also in a time when we really needs to unite and help rebuild cities and states from disasters, certain civil right groups continue to introduce and push us to "think in new ways" creating "the possibility of a new reality" (Kleinman 396). The claim is that sexism in the English language has harmed women. Is the claim true? I think not! As Americans, we study our history to hopefully we do not repeat mistakes done in the past. Perhaps in the past, "man" has harmed women, denied women certain human rights that every person should receive, and set them back years in the social ladder, but words alone these days do not have the same setbacks. The claim was a claim of the past. The words in Kleinman's essay, Why Sexist Language Matters, did concentrated on potentially sexist words, but very little credit was given to the evolution from the past, where words possibly prevented women from succeeding, to the present, where women are now women with power with more modern titles. Again, I disagree with Kleinman that sexism in the English language still harms females till this day.
English is a living language, just like Latin and many other languages. Consider the history of the word "man." Old English scholars wrote in a way the word man meant "a human being" and the prefixes wyf and wer (when put together, woepman and wifman) for male and female. A few generations later, Middle English dropped the woep prefix so the male and female was considered to be part of what later was known as so-called generic "man." "Man" stood for "all people" and at the same time "a male human being." Wyfman became "a female human being" and then later woman came about.
Yes, later on in English as the language evolves further when compounding word came about, we had terms such as chairman, policeman, fireman, lineman, and others. Many assumed the generic "man" term to include all. According to Old English as stated earlier, "man" meant to include both genders. Later in the 1990s, fellow women have challenged these existing terms. The trend in the 1990s was where many women became successful some of which became CEOs, presidents of companies, and many other higher positions in the social ladder.

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They gave themselves the title they wanted. Of course men had trouble accepting the fact that their boss was female and required time getting used to the change in command.
Where Sherryl Kleinman offers is little or no recognition for the living language that is constantly being changed and readapted as time goes by. Offering only suggestions for using more politically correct terms and examples of attempts to change the way people see the generic man being changed to more "human" only resulted in failure. Kleinman offers she does have a place in society's fight to better the lives of women with "Working against sexist language is working against men's violence against women." (Kleinman 399); however, "I'm not referring to such words as ‘bitch,' ‘whore,' and ‘slut.'" (Kleinman 395). Women have their own sense of pride. If they are in a position of calling the shots with a earned title, they will more than likely be preferred to be addressed by that title not derived from the generic "man" term; such as, Doctor Laura, CEO Barbara, and Congresswomen (or Representative) Nancy Pelosi. These titles can be stretched out to more self-degrading, as some would describe, such as my two female friends that declare themselves as "swimming pool whores." They are two beautiful young ladies who have all the confidence in the world, but they label themselves in a way that so they can reap what they want from the lower life males. "Degrading," some say and furthermore, claims say that some women certainly do not help in furthering the Feminist movement. Ultimately setting back such movement, damaged pride is the ending result. Members of the movement can potentially label my two friends as female chauvinists since they are of no help to the movement being of the same sex.
The idea of a "new reality" is nothing new. The civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. was certainly mind moving. This movement however did not directly interfere with war and domestic problems at the time. World War II has been over for almost a decade and King opened up during a window of opportunity. As stated earlier, our nation is in war and terrorism is at its highest. After attacks on our own soil, Sherryl Kleinman publishes her "Why Sexist Language Matters" paper, calling again for a language revolution to strip generic "man" from titles. There is a time and place for your cause and now is not the time. These days the revolution tends to demonstrate the craving for pride more than anything else.
Is it really just generic "man" that is causing all the fuss? No, supposedly it is not completely accepted that males working for a female member of management. The complications include male interpretation usually takes the female's request literally. "It isn't that women are unaware of status or that men don't build rapport, but that the genders tend to focus on different goals." (Tannen 391). Was the reasoning behind the stereotypical women's management behavior due to the past? Women in the past were forced to be passive and not have a way to voice themselves. In present times, females tend to be passive in giving orders and typically ask if the employee can do a favor unlike the other gender that is used to giving an order when the male would like to see action taken. This sort of language being used is interpreted in many fashions. Supposedly the female asking a female to consider something, the female gets the job done. The male on the receiving end, however, can take it or leave it as the example in Crosstalk by Deborah Tannen showed. In the example, the male employee thought about helping the female coworker but later decided not to help. He was not ordered to help; therefore, he did not help. This is only and example of a language barrier between genders. The growing trend is women becoming more assertive in what they want to have done. This way some female members of management can be labeled as a "bitch" simply for giving orders. This is only vulgar name calling. These situations have nothing to do with Kleinman's case, but the vulgarity and passive-aggressive voice does not help women move forward in getting things done.
Sexism in English will always be around. Words do not fully empower women. Words can potentially motivate women and do whatever they need to succeed. Just because a child was raised to think of only males can be policeman and fireman can only be firemen does not men a female can become a police officer or a firefighter. The sense of pride in what the female does and what she believes in. Words are what the individual would like them to mean. Words can be harmful, but they are only words.

Works Cited
Kleinman, Sherryl. "Why Sexist Language Matters." Conversations. New York:
Pearson Longman. 2006.
"Man." "Gender: Sexist Language and Assumptions." The American Heritage Book
of English Usage: A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1996.
Tannen, Deborah. "CrossTalk." Conversations. New York: Pearson Longman. 2006.


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