Today I would like to share with you what Benedict says about sexism in our everyday language. She notes: “The cumulative impact of sexist vocabulary may be subtle, but linguists have demonstrated that it is powerful”. But what is this sexist vocabulary after all? Benedict provides some fascinating facts documented by linguists. Below is a quote from Virgin or Vamp. Very sad, indeed.
· There are more words for men than women.
· There are more positive words for men than women.
· Many more words for women have sexual overtones than words for men.
· There are 220 words for a sexually promiscuous female and only twenty for a promiscuous male.
· There are no words in English for a strong female – no semantic equivalent of “hero,” for example. Think of the difference between “hero” and “heroine”. A hero is active, strong, brave. A heroine more often waits to be rescued by the hero. One rarely says, “She’s a real heroine” when someone does something noble, the way one says, “He’s a real hero”. Likewise, think of the difference between “master” and “mistress”. That mistress carries the double meaning of boss and sexual servant, whereas master does not, typifies the difference between the way male and female words are used in our language.
End of the quote. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty impressive, in a deeply disturbing way. Language matters, whether we want it or not. It conceals inequalities and prejudices that have existed for centuries. And each time we are uttering these words, all these inequalities and prejudices are revived, over and over again, kind of as if we were saying a magic formula to summon a demon. The demon of sexism walks among us every day.
Seriously, it is no joke. It has very real consequences in lives of very real people. Benedict talks of how the way sex crimes are reported reinforces rape myths, which are incredibly damaging for rape victims (most of whom are women, in case you did not know). Think of the 220 words for promiscuous women. Now think of the myth that rape is usually the victim’s fault (because of the way she behaved, dressed, etc). See the connection?