Common phrases used in everyday language convey messages, intended or not, that label and degrade women, people of marginalized ethnic groups, and people of varying sexual orientations. The purpose of this short paper will be to highlight these phrases and their common usage, as well as to illustrate how eliminating these derogatory phrases is an effective tool in ending the discrimination of members of these groups. Its main focus will be on derogatory gender labeling; however its theoretical application can effect changes in the marginalization of all people. It is with great optimism that the author suggests that by eliminating the use of this language, instead replacing it with a more positive and gender-neutral language, an egalitarian society can be achieved.
Some commonly used phrases have definite negative subliminal implications. One example of this is the term “housewife”. Women who do not have salary earning jobs outside of their homes are often given this title. The term implies that women who do not earn a salary for the many jobs that they do, do not work. The work they do in the home, such as cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing are completely devalued underneath this label, as in many cases, the title is preceded by “just a”. Another example of a label given to women is “female”. The word is derogatory, when used to describe a woman, because it takes away her humanity. It labels her as a sex rather than a person. Merriam-Webster’s full definition of female is
1 a (1): of, relating to, or being the sex that bears young or produces eggs (2): pistillate b (1): composed of members of the female sex
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...d where women are more highly regarded and thus treated differently by men, and by other women. Rather than using inherently male language and language that is meant to degrade women, positive phrases and labels of respect have the power to change gender perceptions and cultural hierarchy.
Language is a major barrier between today’s society and an egalitarian society. Phrases with obvious derogatory meaning, even when used playfully, continue to reinforce a system of oppression where women are regarded as less human than men and of lesser value than men. Seemingly harmless expressions that are heard in conversations every day also help to create a system of patriarchy by embracing men as valuable members of society, and women as secondary to men. By eliminating derogatory, hateful phrases and labels the cycle of gender discrimination can be brought to an end.
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