The Language And Gender

The study of language began a long time ago, but the study of gender is fairly short, „earliest concerns about gender and language can be traced to linguistics and feminist theory and political practice“ (Weatherall 2002:2). „Language and Gender is a relatively new field usually marked by the publication of Lakoff’s Language and Women’s place in 1975′ . Although relatively new, it is a diverse and rapidly developing field. It is a study of more than just a language and its relation to gender.

Language and gender, among many other things, also study women’s and men’s behavior, communication, representation in the media, and the difference in women’s’ and men’s’ characters. Language and gender scholars point out that terms „gender’ and „sex’ are not the same, and that it is important to distinguish them. Eckert and McConnel – Ginet (2003:10) claim that sex is a biological categorization primarily based on reproductive potential, whilst gender is the social elaboration of biological sex.

Rather than conceptualizing gender as an identity someone just „has“, analysts began viewing gender as involving what people „do“. Therefore, gender is something that we learn to do, not something we are born with. That being said, there is a certain definition for those behaviors and it is called gender roles. Oxford English dictionary defines gender roles as socially assigned roles traditionally associated with each sex within a culture. Thus, these are expected ways of behaving based on society’s definition of masculine and feminine. An example of a traditional gender role is the view of a mother as a caretaker and a father as a provider.

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These gender roles, however, can often result in gender stereotypes. Aries (1996:163) defines stereotype as „a set of beliefs about the characteristic presumed to be typical of members of a group. Stereotypes distinguish one group from another, for example, men from women.“ Cook and Cusack (2010:20) state that „gender stereotypes are concerned with the social and cultural construction of men and women due to their different physical, biological, sexual and social function.“

Cook and Cusack (2010) claim that it is in human nature to stereotype and that stereotypes affect both men and women, but often with bad effects on women. However, they degrade women and devalue their attitudes and characteristics. In general, stereotypes vary from culture to culture, from individual to individual. Stereotypes can be based on personality traits, behaviors, physical appearance, gender, age, language, pigmentation, religion, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic origin. Some stereotypical views are that women can’t drive; blondes are considered stupid; men won’t ask for directions when they are lost; women should raise their children and be housewives while men should be the head of the house and work to provide for the family etc.

Stereotypes often lead to discrimination. Oxford English dictionary defines discrimination as the practice of treating someone or a particular group in a society less fairly than others. Lakoff (1975:4) states that there are two ways in which women experience linguistic discrimination and those are in the way they are thought to use language and in the way general language use treats them. For example, if a little girl talks „rough’, like a boy, she will be made fun of or scolded. In this way, society keeps her in line. However, if the little girl learns her lesson well she will not be rewarded with an undeniable acceptance from society, quite the contrary – it will be an excuse for others to keep her in a demeaning position and to refuse to take her seriously as a human being. The girl will be accused of not being able to speak precisely.

Lakoff (1975:6) claims that if a girl refuses to talk like a lady, she will be ridiculed and subjected to criticism as unfeminine; however, if she does learn, she will be ridiculed as unable to think clearly or unable to take part in a serious discussion. Above mentioned example shows that stereotypes and discrimination are closely related and that women need to be careful about how they act and speak even from a young age. If they want to be considered „feminine“, they should be polite, support each other, be co-operative and talk and act like ”a lady”. Men, on the other hand, should swear more, not talk about emotions, talk about sport more, insult each other frequently, be competitive in conversation or dominate the conversation to be considered as an ”alpha male”.

These stereotypical views go beyond the language itself. A great example of how men and women are represented differently lies in the media industry. Most of what is portrayed to us through the mass media is influenced by particular values and norms, including many about gender. Media analysts point out that the media also actively shapes and creates culture. In the media, outspoken women are portrayed as hostile. An example of this are feminists because they fight for their rights and therefore society mostly dislikes them. Work in journalism is dominated by men. Women’s magazines are saturated with stories about beauty, femininity, love, cooking and eating healthy, staying in shape, etc., while men’s magazines include stories about finance, business, technology, sports/hobbies, politics, music, film, travel, etc.

In the television/film industry women are less important than men: there are fewer women on prime time; characters are young and less mature; older women typically have negative roles; romantic relationships while males talk about work. Spender (1990:14) claims that one of the basic principles of feminism is that society has been constructed with a bias that favors males and that one of the basic principles of feminists who are concerned with language is that this bias can be located in the language. Therefore, this bias which is frequently in favor of males can be referred to as sexism in a language. Sexist language is a language that excludes one sex or the other, or which suggests that one sex is superior to the other. For example, traditionally he, him, and his were used to refer to both sexes, male and female, but nowadays many people feel that this makes she, her and hers seem less important or inferior. It is best to avoid sexist language in order not to offend anyone.

Another frequent error that shows gender bias is the assumption that the subject of all sentences is male. For example, the statement ”Each student chose his own topic for this term paper.” leads the reader to assume that all the students in the class were male, despite the probability that half of them were female. Some more examples of sexist language: ”Every student must have a pencil and he should always bring it to class – to avoid sexism, use they: ”Every student must have a pencil and they should always bring it to class.” ‘When a person sells a car, he or she needs to locate his or her title paperwork.” – to avoid sexism, use plural: ”When selling a car, people need to locate their title paperwork.” ”If the writer plans ahead, he will save a lot of effort” – to avoid sexism use who instead of he: ”The writer who plans ahead will save a lot of effort.” ”As someone grows older, he grows more reflective.” – to avoid sexism use one, you or we.

”One student may be assertive in his interpersonal relations, while another may be timid in his approach to the world.” – to avoid sexism use his or her: ”One student may be assertive in his or her interpersonal relations, while another may be timid to approach the world. Some common word we use but don’t realize they’re sexist, and how they should be used: Spender (1990) states that Julia Stanley (1973) found that many of the words for women had sexual overtones and even though there were more words for men, of the smaller sample assigned to women there were 220 words for a sexually promiscuous female and only 20 for a sexually promiscuous male. This would seem to indicate that a language – as a system – embodies sexual inequality and that it is not women who enjoy the advantage.

Here are some of the examples of denotations and their connotations: Word Denotation Connotation Chick a baby bird a woman or a girl Bitch the female of the dog immoral woman Bachelor a person with a bachelor’s degree an unmarried man Silver fox red fox a handsome grey-haired man Crumpet a kind of cake derogative word to describe women. The best example of sexism are advertisements. Women are usually shown as subordinate, partial, or diminished; in traditional roles; sell cleaners, personal care items, food, perfumes, etc. Men are shown in professional roles; sell domestic products, cars, watches, phones, etc. Voices in ads are mainly male as advertisers believe they have authority and are more believable. Since 1970 women have been sexually exploited, scantily dressed, or naked regardless of the product. Men have been depicted as Rambo of advertising. The same things are found in the music industry, where men in music videos are typically wealthy, surrounded by half-naked girls and powerful sports cars and women are presented as sex objects.

Hip hop culture has been around for a long period of time. It has become very popular among teenagers and young adults. Hip hop is not just a way of making songs, it is also a form of expression and a representation of an entire culture. There is a certain style of dressing and speaking, expected ways of behavior, and many other things. According to an internet article written by Greg Tate and Alan Light hip-hop, hip hop is a cultural movement that gained its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Even though it is often considered as a synonym for rap music, the term hip hop refers to a culture consisting of four elements: deejaying (or ‘turntabling’), rapping (also known as ‘MCing’), graffiti painting, and b-boying, which is a hip hop dance, style, and attitude. The site defines rap as a musical style in which rhythmic or rhyming speech is chanted to a musical background.

Hip hop originated in South Bronx in New York City in the late 1970s. At the time, South Bronx was predominantly populated with African Americans. The beginnings of dancing, rapping, and deejaying aspects of hip hop were brought together by the environment in which they evolved. The first major hip hop deejay was an 18-year-old immigrant from Jamaica called DJ Kool Herc, whose real name was Clive Campbell. He introduced the sounds of Jamaica to the hip hop culture. He was considered as the father of modern rapping because of his spoken interjections over records.

Though believed to be popular with mainly African American males, hip hop became the best selling genre of music in the United States in the late 1990s. Its impact was global, spreading all over the world and becoming popular in cities like Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Cape Town, London, Bristol, etc. It ensured huge sales of products in fashion, alcohol, electronics, and automobile industries, popularized by MTV’s music videos consisting of sports cars and female models.

Even the people unfamiliar with hip hop/rap culture know that rap songs and albums are not what they used to be. Like everything around us changing, the themes that rap songs speak about have also changed significantly. In the early beginnings of rap songs, artists wrote about themes such as poverty, violence, crime, and ‘hood politics’. The site claims that lyrics are the most striking difference between the 90’s rap and today’s modern tracks. Rap songs in the past decade had a more narrow focus than they do today and songs were less about an artist’s success and more about his or her rise to it. Artists had to create a ‘gangster persona’ to attract and maintain the interest of record labels. Rap was usually the story of ghetto life and the anthem of gangsters, which prevented hip hop from joining other genres of music.

Now, a decade later, artists still have different styles and themes in their songs. However, they no longer need to write about ghetto life. The stories and themes artists can express themselves about have broadened immensely. Kanye West is an example of how much hip hop/rap music and culture has changed. His 2004 album ‘The College Dropout’ does not speak about violence, poverty, or living on the streets, in fact, it speaks about religion. In the years to come, more artists have started to express themselves, abandoning the ‘gangsta rap’ and focusing on their individuality as rappers. Today, more artists rap about the topics that range from thrift shopping to the countless aspects of their lavish lifestyle. However, some aspects of this culture have not changed, or have seen a minor improvement, and these are the representations of women and men in the lyrics and music videos. Hip hop/rap songs are still considered misogynistic and most of the artists are not even trying to take a step in the right direction.

Misogyny in hip hop/rap music

Rap music has a reputation for being misogynistic, but surprisingly little research has been done for this type of music. The 2009 study of A Content Analysis of Prevalance and Meaning conducted by Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin assesses the representation of women in 403 rap songs. Their content analysis identified five gender-related themes in this type of music: naming and shaming; sexual objectification; distrust of women; legitimating violence; and prostitution and pimping. That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin’ Gotta have my hustle tight, makin’ change off these women. You know it’s hard out here for a pimp, When he tryin’ to get this money for the rent. ”It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” – Three 6 Mafia

This is only one example of rap songs that represent women in a demeaning and humiliating way. In 2005, this song won an Academy Award for best original song in a feature film ”Hustle and flow”. It was performed on the Oscars and instantly received criticism for praising the exploitation and horrible treatment of women. A few years earlier, rapper Eminem won a Grammy for his 2001 album ”The Marshall Mathers LP”, which is an album that contains extreme spite and cruelty toward women.

Systematic content analysis of rap music is rare. An analysis of rap and heavy metal songs from 1985 to 2990 found that rap music was more sexually explicit and graphic while heavy metal’s allusion to sexual acts or male domination was fairly subtle. This analysis was limited to only 20 songs that were considered controversial at the time. A unique study of Chicano rap songs from 1999 to 2002 identified two themes: a criticism of racial inequality and injustice and support of male dominance over women. Of the 263 songs that mentioned women, 37% represented them ”simply as objects of male desire and pleasure”, while 4% justified violence against them. Another content analysis of 409 rap songs during the period of 1987 – 1993 found that lyrics featured violence against women in 22% of the songs and this included encouragement of assault, rape, and murder.

Among many other genres, rap music can be seen as part of a larger ideology that convinces the population that heterosexual male dominance is natural and normal. Rap artists are also pressured by the elites in the music industry. To expand sales, moguls encourage provocative, edgy lyrics. They also discriminate and do not want to represent artists that do not stick with these themes and want to rap about something meaningful. As a result of this, many artists renounce political and social messages, and focus on materialistic and superficial things instead., as well as sexual exploitation.

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The Language And Gender. (2022, May 01). Retrieved from

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