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Sexist language is language that expresses bias in favor of one sex and thus treats the
other sex in a discriminatory manner. In most cases, the bias is in favor of men and
against women. This paper firstly discusses sexist language from two typical aspects:
sexism in words and sexism in proverbs. Then it emphasizes that owing to Women’s
Liberation Movement in Western Countries, women’s social status has been bettered, and such
supermasculine phenomenon in English is being alleviated accordingly. In order to illustrate the
two issues clearly, many interesting examples are given.
I. Introduction
Sexist language is language that expresses bias in favor of one sex and thus treats the
other sex in a discriminatory manner. In most cases the bias is in favor of men and
against women. The existence of sexist language is due to sexism in society. As a
social phenomenon, language is closely related to social attitudes. In the past, women
are supposed to stay at home, remaining powerless and generally subordinate to man,
whereas men are considered as the center both in the family and society. In a word,
for a long time women have been looked on as “the weaker sex” in society. Even in
English-speaking countries, which hold the claim that “every one is created equal”,
discrimination against women exists. Language simply reflects this social fact.
However, because of their greater status-consciousness, the movement amongst
feminists to reduce sexual discrimination and sex-role stereotyping has led to a
number of conscious attempts to influence and change languages and linguistic
behavior. The problem is that the language which we have inherited were all
developed in the Bad Old Days, so the question is whether they force us all to think
along the old lines without realizing it. Does language discriminate against women?
More precisely, do the ways in which languages allow us to refer to males and
females discriminate against females? This paper will first explore the answer to this
question from such aspects as sexism in words, sexism in proverbs. Then it will show
us the non-discriminatory portrayal of the sexes.
II. Sexism in English

  1. Sexism in words
    In society, men are considered the norm for the human species: their characteristics,
    thoughts, beliefs and actions are viewed as fully representing those of all humans,
    male and female. This practice can make women invisible in language or altogether
    excludes them. It can also lead to their portrayal as deviations from this ‘male =
    human’ norm. Women’s linguistic status is often dependent on or derives from that of
    men, which is represented as autonomous. By relegating women to a dependent,
    subordinate position, sexist language prevents the portrayal of women and men as
    different but equal human beings.
    1.1. Common forms of sexism in English include the use of ‘man’ and ‘he / him / his’
    as generics—that is, nouns and pronouns referring to both men and women—the use
    of suffixes -man, -ette, -ess, -trix in occupational nouns and job titles, asymmetrical
    naming practices, and stereotyped images of women and men as well as descriptions
    of (mainly) women which trivialise or denigrate them and their status.
    1.1.1. English does not possess a third person singular pronoun which is genderneutral. Instead the ‘masculine’ pronouns ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’ are generally used to refer
    to both men and women. This is confusing and inaccurate and, as well, makes women
    invisible. Consider the following examples:
    All men are mortal,
    Julia is a man
    Therefore, Julia is mortal.
    Like other animals, man nourishes his baby with milk.
    We want to hire the best men we can get for the job.
    In example 1), the underlined sentence sounds absurd, since everybody knows Julia
    is a girl’s name. In example 2), the underlined part sounds more ridiculous and it’s
    obviously contradictory to the common sense. In example 3), the problem is that we
    can’t know the exact sex of the persons they want to hire. They may want only girls,
    or both sexes, but they simply use “man” here.
    1.1.2. In English language, there are many words, which are clearly male-orientated
    in that they contain the element “—man” while they can in fact apply to both sexes,
    For example:
    chairman congressman councilman
    newsman foreman freshman
    Policeman salesman mailman
    1.1.3. Sexism in language is also showed in that the noun of feminine gender can
    only be obtained by adding a certain bound morpheme to the noun. For example:
    Man woman manager manageress
    Prince princess god goddess
    author authoress mayor mayoress
    count countess shepherd shepherdess
    host hostess steward stewardess
    poet poetess usher usherette
    heir heiress sailor sailorette
    hero heroine conduct conductette
    1.2. Some English words, especially the name of some professions, are basically of
    common gender, namely, they can be applied to both sexes. However, people
    usually will habitually associate them only with male. Consequently, we have to add
    “woman” before those names if we want to refer to female of those professions. For
    Doctor woman doctor
    Professor woman professor
    Engineer woman engineer
    Lawyer lady lawyer
    Reporter girl reporter
    The above examples obviously reflect people’s deep-rooted discrimination against
    women, that is, women have to be dependent on men and are even just some
    appendages of man.
    1.3. One tendency involves words that are clearly restricted in reference to one sex
    or the other, with female words tending to have less favorable meanings. A classic
    pair is master and mistress, where the male meaning is ‘good’ and the female is
    ‘bad’; specifically, a mistress but not a master is a partner for extra-marital sex.
    Some other examples are as follows:
    1). The word “master” means “host” while the feminine word “mistress” has the
    surface meaning “hostess”. But actually its connotative meaning is “lover”, “woman
    who depends on man” In the following sentence “ He grew tired of his wife and
    went out for a mistress” Here we will sure know that “mistress “ cannot be his wife.
    2). The word “governor” refers to “a person appointed to govern a province or state,
    whereas the word “governess” just means ‘nurse maid”.
    3). The word “professional” refers to a person qualified or employed in one of the
    professions. When we say “he is a professional”, he may be thought to be a boxer,
    whereas when we say “she is a professional”, she is likely a prostitute.
    4). When “tramp” refers to male, it means that the man is homeless, he goes from
    place to place and does no regular work. While when it refers to a female, it also
    indicates that she is a prostitute.5).The word shrew taken from the name of a small but
    especially vicious animal is defined in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as an
    “bad-tempered, scolding woman,” but the word shrewd taken from the same root is
    defined as “having, showing, sound judgment and common sense.” and illustrated
    with the phrase “a shrewd businessman.”
    6). “The man in the street” and “ The woman in the street” is in the same situation,
    yet the former one just shows that the man is an ordinary person, the latter one can
    indicates that she is a prostitute.
    Such sexual use of the female word is typical. North American English has no fewer
    than 220 words for a sexually promiscuous woman, but only twenty for sexually
    promiscuous men, and London school children had a rich vocabulary of insult terms
    for girls, all related to sexual behavior, but very few specifically for boys.
    1.4. Some English words show the lower social status of women. Some example are
    quite clear, such as the English distinction between Mrs and Miss which is not
    paralleled by a pair of male titles showing whether or not the bearer is married. This
    implies (unfairly) that it is more important for a woman than for a man to show
    whether they are married.
    Stereotyped images of men and women are based on oversimplified generalizations of
    what women and men should be and how they should behave. Such images are often
    not only inaccurate but also severely hamper the representation of the changing roles
    of the sexes in society.
    Some examples of such language are given below: a man and his wife, man and wife,
    John’s widow. In expressions such as these, women are described and defined in terms
    of their relationship to men. Men, however, are hardly ever described in terms of their
    relationship to women.
    In the following sentences, women are primarily described in terms of their physical
    appearance. This concentration on physical attributes to the exclusion of other
    features seldom occurs in the description of men. Male and female stereotyping
    occurs frequently in relation to occupations and gender roles. Women who are
    employed outside the home are still described in terms of being the ‘wife of’, ‘mother
    of’ or ‘daughter of’. Portrayals of men in their professional roles seldom describe them
    as ‘father of’, ‘husband of’ and the like.
  2. Sexism in proverbs
    Proverbs are certain condensation of one language. Therefore the sexism can be
    reflected perfectly in proverbs. In an English proverb, “He who follows his wife’s
    advice will never see the face of god.” We can clearly feel the wicked underlines by
    which men stretch their prejudice towards women. But this is not the end, we have
    something even worse, like:
    1). A neck without a head, buttocks without a hole and a girl without shame are not
    worth admiring or marrying.
    2). A woman has even cheated the devil.
    3). A woman is like a lemon; you squeeze her and throw her away.
    4). Seven women in their right senses are surpassed by a mad man..
    5). Women have got long hair and short sense.
    6). A woman’s tongue cracks bones.
    Not only in English, but also in many other languages, women are the victims of evilintentioned jokes or proverbs. Afghan jokes and folklore are blatantly sexist, such as
    this proverb: ‘If you see an old man, sit down and take a lesson; if you see an old
    woman, throw a stone.’
    III. Non-discriminatory portrayal of the sexes
    Owing to the Women’s Liberation Movement in Western Countries, women’s social
    status has been bettered, and such supermasculine phenomenon in language is being
    alleviated accordingly. Yet there are two key problems here: one is how to directly
    eliminate the sexist words in language; the other is how to eliminate the sexism
    resulted from the use of the use of ‘man’ and ‘he / him / his’ as generics.
  3. Titles and some naming practices
    Naming practices for women and men are often asymmetrical. Inequality is implied,
    for instance, in cases where a woman’s title is not mentioned but a man’s is; where a
    woman is addressed simply by her first name but a man is addressed by his title, first
    name and surname; and in some salutations, directed to a man and a woman, when the
    woman is not addressed. Other practices also can create the impression that women
    merit less respect or less serious consideration than men do, such as when
    endearments are used to address women in situations that do not justify such words .
    ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’, ‘Mrs’, ‘Miss’
    Use of the title ‘Mr’ before a person’s name merely identifies that person as a male
    adult. The titles ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’, however, not only identify the person addressed as a
    woman but also make known her marital status. The title ‘Ms’ was introduced so that a
    woman is not required to reveal her marital status and so that people writing to or
    addressing a woman are not required to guess it by using ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. ‘Ms’ should
    be used for a woman whose title preference is unknown. It should be followed by the
    woman’s own name, or if she prefers, her spouse’s name. Any given names or initials
    used in connection with the title ‘Ms’ are invariably the woman’s and not those of her
    spouse. ‘Ms’ is the same whether singular or plural. The pronunciation of ‘Ms’ varies
    somewhat but The Macquarie Dictionary recommends ‘mz’.
    It is important that, where a woman’s preferred title is known (whether Ms, Mrs or
    Miss), her right to be known by that title be respected. Other titles
    Many women have gained professional and academic titles previously associated
    mainly with men. It is therefore important not to assume that all holders of titles such
    as Dr, Professor and Captain are men and therefore address them as ‘Sir’ or refer to
    them as ‘he’ or ‘him’. Salutations in correspondence
    Letters, notes, reports and the like are frequently addressed to a person or persons
    about whose title, surname, first name or sex the writer knows very little. It is no
    longer acceptable to use the salutation ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Sirs’ in such cases. Here are
    some alternatives:
    Dear Sir Dear Sir / Madam; Dear Sir or Madam Dear Madam / Sir; Dear Madam or
    Dear Principal Dear Householder
    Dear Officer Dear Customer
    Dear Colleague Dear Subscriber
    Dear Sirs Dear Gentlemen and Ladies Dear Ladies and Gentlemen
    Dear Mackenzie Pty Ltd (in case of a company) Dear People (informal)
    Dear Mr Benetti Dear R. Benetti (sex unknown) Dear Mr / Ms Benetti
    Dear Mrs Braun Dear Ms Braun (if title preference unknown)
    It is also acceptable to address reports and references to ‘To whom it may concern’ if
    the recipient is unknown to the writer. The use of the person’s first name and surname
    only in salutations, e.g. ‘Dear Pat Koutsoukis’, has become acceptable in cases where
    the person’s title (and / or sex) is unknown.
    When one is replying to correspondence signed jointly by a man and a woman, both
    persons should be acknowledged in the salutation in the order and form in which their
    names appear in the correspondence.
  4. Alternatives for ‘man’
    2.1 It is recommended that women are made more visible in language by avoiding the
    use of ‘male-specific’ and ‘male-identified’ words in the generic sense. namely,
    man (generic sense) humans, human race, human beings, human species, humanity,
    humankind o r women and men, person(s), man and woman, individual(s), people(s),
    2.2. The use of ‘man’ should also be avoided in idioms and phrases when the author or
    speaker clearly intends the expression to include both women and men. Expressions
    such as ‘the best man for the job’ or ‘the man on the land’ not only make women’s
    presence and achievements in the workforce invisible but can also lead to
    discrimination. Alternatives for some common expressions are suggested below:
    “the man in the street”.—- the average citizen, the average person, an ordinary person,
    ordinary people;
    “the best man for the job”—- the best candidate or applicant, person for the job, the
    best man or woman for the job;
    “man to man”_—– person to person.
    “man of the year”—- ‘citizen of the year’ or ’employee of the year’.
    In gender-specific contexts expressions such as ‘man to man’, ‘woman to woman’,’onewoman show’ ,’one-man show’ are appropriate.
    2.3. Occupational nouns and job titles
    Occupational nouns and job titles ending in -man obscure the presence of women in
    such professions and positions. There are various strategies for replacing –man
    compounds. For example, the use of an existing gender-neutral term (police officer
    instead of policeman), or of the -person alternative (layperson instead of layman) or
    the explicit naming of both sexes (sportsmen and women instead of sportsmen) are
    some of the possibilities. It is, of course, acceptable to use the -man compound to
    refer to a man occupying the position if a woman in such a position is referred to by a
    -woman compound (spokeswoman for a woman and spokesman for a man). However,
    the practice of referring to a man by means of the –man compound and to a woman by
    means of the -person compound is discriminatory.
    Here is a list of the most frequently used alternatives:
    businessman —business executive, business manager, business owner, business
    person, entrepreneur, financier, investor, proprietor
    cattleman— cattle breeder, cattle owner, cattle producer, cattle raiser, cattle worker,
    chairman— the chair, chairperson, convener, coordinator, discussion leader, head (of)
    … , leader, moderator, person chairing a meeting, person in the chair, president,
    presiding officer
    clergyman— member of the clergy Depending on the denomination, other terms may
    include ‘priest’, ‘pastor’, ‘ecclesiastic’ etc.
    craftsman —artisan (artist), craftworker, technician
    draftsman— artist, designer, drafter, drafting technician, drawer
    fireman — firefighter boiler attendant, fire tender, stoker (railways, marine etc.)
    fisherman— fisher, fishing licensee (e.g. for legal purposes), angler
    foreman — supervisor, work supervisor, leading hand
    groundsman— groundsperson (if specific duties, e.g. gardener, landscaper)
    handyman— handyperson, do-it-yourselfer, maintenance worker, repairer
    kinsman— kin, relation, relative
    layman— layperson, non-expert (amateur), non-specialist,
    laymen— laypeople, laypersons, lay community, laity
    milkman— milkdeliverer, milk supplier, ‘milko’ (informal)
    policeman— member of the police, police officer (term indicating rank)
    postman— letter carrier, mail carrier, mail deliverer, postal delivery officer, postal
    worker, ‘postie’ (informal)
    salesman— sales agent, sales associate, sales attendant, salesperson, sales
    representative, salesworker, shop assistant, shop attendant
    spokesman — advocate, offical, representative, (person) speaking on behalf of … ,
    speaker, spokesperson
    sportsman— athlete, player, sports competitor, sportsperson
    statesman— leader, state leader
    stockman— stockrider, stockworker, station hand, farm hand
    storeman— storeperson, stores officer, storeworker
    tradesman— tradesperson (trader)
    tradesmen— tradespeople
    weatherman— meteorologist, weather presenter, weather reporter (weather forecaster,
    weather bureau)(Do not use weathergirl if the forecaster is a woman.)
    Workman— worker, employee, working person
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