Issues in Gender and Language: An Annotated Bibliography

By Ayim, Maryann; Goossens, Diane | Resources for Feminist Research, Spring/Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

Issues in Gender and Language: An Annotated Bibliography


Ayim, Maryann, Goossens, Diane, Resources for Feminist Research


INTRODUCTION

Maryann Ayim

Reference and Gender: Complements and Compliments

This title is offered tongue in cheek; terms with gender connotations are seldom if ever complementary, and those which refer specifically to females tend often to be in sulting rather than complimentary. The annotations included in this collection address both of these issues. The bulk of the entries urge that the so - called generic sense of "he" and "man " fails utterly to achieve any true gender complementarity of reference, and that it excludes th e female by creating a male norm. A smaller set of entries deals with an analysis of some o f the ways in which women are labelled, claiming that much of the labelling is trivializing.

These two themes are not unrelated, of course. If language reflects a triv ialization of women in our society, it is hardly surprising that people feel little pressure t o include women, and that some of the most commonly used terms to refer to human beings (e. g., " man" and "mankind") are generally interpreted as referring almost exclusively to males.

My introduction will include comments on both the exclusion of females from the "he/man" language, as well as the labelling of females. Like the annotations themselves, my comments on this first topic will be much more extensive than those on the second. Aside fr om five references to works published prior to 1983, the earliest publication date for t he annotations in this collection, all my citations will be to entries contained in the bibliograp hy. References to the three earlier works are provided in full at the end of the introduction.

He/Man" Language and the Exclusion of Females

There are many mechanisms for ensuring that specific groups of people are e ither prohibited from attaining valued privileges or are relegated to the periphery. Language ha s always played a vital role in such exclusionary tactics; in the last three decades, however, l anguage researchers have become self - conscious about the way in which language has worked to maint ain privilege and perpetuate inequality. Most of the annotations in this collection focus on exactly this issue - - namely, the exclusionary quality of the terms "he" and "man" in the English la nguage. My general discussion of the annotations dealing with the "he - man" language will consist of three sections: I. Introductory Comments, II. Factors Influencing the Use and Interpr etations of "He - Man" Language, and III. Proposals for Generic Reform.

Section I: Introductory Comments

Overwhelmingly, the pertinent research surveyed in this annotated bibliography s upports the position that terms of gender in the English language are crucial cogs in a sexi st machinery which not only excludes the female from the definition of humanity, but also dem eans and trivializes the female. The items in this bibliography focus on sex as an eleme nt of linguistic bias, but we know that our language fosters and perpetuates racist and classist bigotry as well. Patricia Bell Scott, in her essay (1982) in the edited collection, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave; Black Women's Studies, discusses a mong other things the overlap of sexism and racism in social science research. Even the term "man," while it is at heart evidence of the sexist exclusion of women, also harbours de ep roots in racist and classist exclusion -- black men, for example, were referred to as "boys" for generations by white colonialist society, and certain categories of lower class working men, bl ack household servants, and waiters in particular, are still frequently referred to as "boys."

The research surveyed in this collection provides some fascinating perspect ives on both the nature of the problem of exclusionary language as well as proposed solutions to it. It is very much a reiteration and continuation of the feminist discussion of language which began in the mid - seventies. …

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