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I am doing a project on the effect language has on society's attitude towards women. If you have any information on how language has changed owing to the feminist struggle, or how language is still being biased towards women, I would be very grateful.

Thank you,


Dear Michelle,

Language obviously goes a long way both toward perpetuating stereotypes, but also toward dismantling them. When I first became "formally" active in feminism, I read an article by Gloria Steinem called "Words & Change" - it can be found in her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. The article "reversed" certain words and phrases as a means of pointing out the absurdity of some things. For instance, it might seem petty to insist that someone is a chairperson rather than a chairman; but think if everyone chairperson were called a chairwoman how outraged people would be about the limitations of this title.

So I do think it's important to use appropriate language, however this often means that we can't rely on one norm or one standard, since there are so many alternatives - and options. Equate it to people of different races and ethnicities - certain African Americans want to be called just that, while others thinks that's a misnomer and black American is a more accurate. So in the language department, I think the most we can ask is that people be sensitive to it and accurate as possible. You can check out Dale Spender's writing for more on this topic. Hope that helps.


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