Dr. M. J. Hardman shares her knowledge
The English encourages sexism.

Sexist Circuits

"Sexism is deeply embedded in our grammar
in such a way that
we are mostly unaware
of its daily impact."

"The structure of English persuades us, both gently and not so gently, to think in sexist ways.

Because our grammar leads us to see human relationships in sexist terms, we use that model to structure our relationships with other human beings, much as the laws governing slaves were based on the laws then governing women.

Language and culture are on a feedback loop; changing one changes the other in complex interactional ways."


How It Is

"In English, as soon as a baby is born, we label it as being the child of a man.

Our naming patterns make the mother disappear precisely as she gives birth: the baby usually carries the father's name.

Furthermore, when the formal announcement comes, the mother is reduced to a mere prefix: "Mr. and Mrs. John Jones announce...."

Furthermore, the name a girl child is given at birth isn't even a permanent one; it will change over her lifetime as the man responsible for her changes."

"Even the part of the name she feels is her own -- the "given" name -- will, for the most part, be a derivative of some man's name, formed by adding something.

For example: Stephanie from Steven or Paula from Paul or diminutives like Betty or Patty. She is denied the identity that can be the foundation of autonomy from the very start.

The social concealment of the birth process is part of this denial..."



"In English, the pronouns echo the structure of the noun sets. The child learns that the "generic" is he and thus begins a life of translations.

A girl child must learn how to "translate" each and every he to know whether or not she might be included: "Will everyone please come in with his ticket?" Can she go in?

This is not an easy matter and grammatically leaves girls and women always on the edges, always uncertain as to belonging. Her position is always uncertain, always subject to exclusion, even when legal barriers to inclusion have been removed."


Mental Abuse

"A young woman is seen as a vegetable or a piece of meat; as she grows older, she may be "feisty" but never strong or forthright. The vocabulary of words that deprecate women is furthermore always increasing as words get introduced for a given purpose, pass into general use, then become deprecative. The word tart was once a nice pastry."

"Think of what has happened to the word feminist."

"The mirror image of this is that deprecative words for men that are not based on women (sissy, bastard) do not remain unambiguously deprecative; think of what has happened to the word macho." Macho was once a derogatory word used to criticize a man for being so blatantly sexual and self-centered. Now it designates a particularly 'manly' and desirable man.



"...we have a long list of derivational suffixes whereby one can derive a woman from a man -- such as smurfette, heroine, and many others.

These derived forms can never be as good as the real "thing": think of how leatherette holds up against leather.

A goddess is never quite as powerful as a god; after all, she needs him to define her.

This structure even keeps us from seeing structures from elsewhere that might inspire us to think otherwise..."



"We also have that whole terrible set of seminal metaphors which in academia equate intellectual ability and male sexual performance:
for example: hard ideas that have great thrust and can stand up by themselves and be penetrating and not peter out and disseminate all over, entering and conquering all that virgin territory."

"Derivational thinking is the structure our language gives us for human relations.

It is not surprising that we apply this structure to all other human relations, with the result that non-whites, colonials, and others we wish to denigrate are equated negatively to the "sublevel" of woman."

"This makes for difficult and uncertain autonomy even for man -- any moment someone might outrank you and reduce you to some "woman" status, which are the only insults for men that remain insults."


Anthropology to Linguistics


Professor Hardman suggests
that to become aware
reduces use of improper metaphors
and the awareness reduces the power to denigrate.

She says: "And as we change our language,
thus also do we change our thinking
and, sentence by sentence,
the social environment in which we live."

To get a better understanding of the comparative studies
Dr. Hardman made to come to these conclusions and site these examples,
read her entire article:
in the March/April 1996 issue of
a magazine of the American Humanist Association,
1777 T Street NW, Washington DC 20009-3175


Naomi Sherer