Equality in Communication: The Shifting Power of Words

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Words alone are labels and tools with shifting powers that both men and women use to convey or communicate ideas and ideals. In the hands of considerate people, words become an instrument used to cheer up a friend, or to express and share joy with those we love. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and New Year’s cards are all examples that demonstrate the positive use of words. People also use words to hurt, denigrate, incite hate, and dehumanize others.

Linguistics reveals that men and women have deliberately used words, throughout history, to reduce fellow men and women to abstract, insubstantial, and nonrepresentational names such as savage, alien, cripple, virus, parasites, fetus, nigger, and kike; these theoretically non-human characterizations enables those who lack sensitivity and genuine concern for others to inflict unimaginable injury, deeply wounding our core essence and spirit.

At some point, thoughtful actors must draw a line and separate themselves from those who are insensitive to others and who choose to demonstrate their insensitivity by the choice of words they use to communicate. For those self-absorbed, with no particular interest in  humanity, this essay may only irritate and further unleash them embrace their “Raison D’être.” On the other hand, the truly human (humane) individual must force her or him to carefully choose words that not only accurately communicate but also reflect a  deliberate consideration for the sensitivities of society.

Alleen Pace Nilsen’s essay, “Sexism In English,” exposes the harsh reality that within the English language, words describe women full of sexual overtones as well as negative connotations, while words that describe men evoke a more constructive quality. Nilsen writes, “a callboy is the person who calls actors when it is time for them to go on stage, but a call girl is a prostitute.” These two words clearly show how wide the gap is between gender-specific language.

The sexual inference is an obvious point of dissension between the sexes and therefore an excellent place to aim for change. Nilsen asserts that the titles master and mistress call to mind similar images. Though these examples show a disparity between the images they engender for either men or women, we should avoid them every chance we get.

wordsMost men and women find it almost impossible to avoid the sexual overtones that have entered the language through such Greek “eponyms [as] aphrodisiac from Aphrodite, the Greek name for the goddess of love and beauty, and venereal disease from Venus, the Roman name for Aphrodite.” Nevertheless, it is within human reach to overcome such uses demonstrated in the slogans ‘The Marine Corps builds Men!’ and ‘Join the Army! Become a Man’ especially when we know it is inaccurate.

Today, journalists often correct themselves on television. For example, a number of them say: “any man that runs for president should…,” and before they finish the sentence they immediately change the word man to candidate, thus, “any candidate,” which is more inclusive and more accurate. It is not necessary to exclude women from our language, and with today‟s heightened politically correct atmosphere, it is no longer practical but rather inconsiderate to continue to use such language.

“Real Mean Don’t: Anti-Male Bias In English,” written by Eugene R. August, diametrically conveys the opposite view that men are unfairly and negatively characterized by the English language. He supports his view by offering the familiar nursery rhyme that tells children:

Girls are dandy Made of candy-

That’s what little girls are made of.

Boys are rotten, Made of cotton-

That’s what little boys are made of.

Though this rhyme might seem harmless, it represents one of the first ideas that will enter the minds of young children throughout America. Mr. August further reports that words also affect men. Words like “loser, dead-beat, bum, freeloader, leech, parasite, goldbrick, sponge mooch, scrounger, ne’er-do-well, good for nothing, and so on” adversely affect one‟s psychological senses. These labels can and should be avoided. In “Real Men Don’t: “August suggests that “the more we make men the enemy, the more they will have to behave like the enemy.

After examining both Nilsen and August‟s essay, readers might conclude that both writers have valid points and that their objectives offset one another. Upon considering their arguments, it may perhaps be easier to simply continue the status quo. Rosalie Maggio‟s essay, “Bias-Free Language some Guidelines,” mediates the polarizing factors that differentiate these two works. Maggio suggests: “A speaker who uses man to mean human being while the audience hears it as an adult male is an example of communication gone awry.”

In other words, Maggio is saying that the primary objective of communication is accuracy; thus, a person that uses “man” to mean “human being” is not only insensitive but also inaccurate. Furthermore, she emphasizes the value of inclusive language, claiming that it is more logical as well as beneficial to one’s inner attitude. Maggio contends, “Sexist language promotes and maintains attitudes that stereotype people according to gender while assuming that the male is the norm — the significant gender.

Nonsexist language treats all people equally and either does not refer to a person’s sex at all when it is irrelevant or refers to men and women in symmetrical ways” her solution is to describe people as individuals. This approach will not only make one’s writing and speaking more clearly, but it will also nurture and cultivate the human qualities that negative language robs from society.

Though the first two essays infer that our words are deeply shaped by long-standing ideas between both men and women, the third demonstrates that both sexes are not without the power to augment their language and accommodate today’s cry for equality in communication.

By DiMarkco Chandler

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of ashley.adcox’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of RCabanilla’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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