Chick, hangipants, sheila, Mrs, Miss and Ms. Words for women, do they matter? Are names as harmful as sticks and stones? Are girls better at language than boys? If women are so good at talking, why do men dominate many conversations? Is there a woman's language? Are women and men really communicating across a cultural divide or is 'I don't understand' just an excuse for not listening? If a woman speaks like a man, has she lost touch with her femininity? The answers to these questions are not straightforward. As Robin Lakoff, a key figure in gender and language research, put it: 'The questions surrounding women and language bring together some of the most agonising, complex, diverse and ultimately insoluble issues facing our society' (Lakoff, 1990, p. 199). This book is an exploration of the issues underpinning the sort of questions that get asked about gender and language.
My interest in the topics of gender and language began in 1987 during my third year of studying psychology at Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand (NZ). I became involved with a group project on sexist language as part of a social psychology course. In our reading we discovered a debate about whether masculine generic terms such as 'mankind' and 'chairman' were sexist or not. One side of the debate was that masculine generic forms were not biased, they were just grammatical convention. On the other, was the suggestion that masculine generics functioned to disadvantage women by making them seem invisible and unimportant. Social psychological research confirmed for me that sexist language was not a trivial issue. One of the main themes of this book is to show how language is key to understanding gender and challenging sexism.
Later in 1987, Sik Hung Ng, my social psychology lecturer (and later a valued colleague), found financial support for me to travel to Christchurch to attend a lecture by Dale Spender. I will never forget my awe at her head-to-toe purple clothes and the passion she stirred in me as she spoke of the silencing of women and the work needed to make women's voices heard. Fired up by Spender's lecture I became committed to challenging sexist language practices. I wrote letters to editors complaining about sexist
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Publication information: Book title: Gender, Language and Discourse. Contributors: Ann Weatherall - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: Hove, England. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 1.
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