Not too long ago, I received an email regarding a debate in Phoenicia University tackling the issue of freedom of expression on social media. I was intrigued by the topic and curious about how it might go, so I said to myself: “let the best team convince me!” Then, when the debate started the tension between the two groups was obvious and the members were focused on the First Amendment of the US constitution that guarantees individual’s freedom. Suddenly, however, in the middle of the debate, something grabbed my attention: the students were using male pronouns such as “he” and “his” to refer to both females and males. The question that instantly came to my mind was: why is sexist language still adopted by university students?
In fact, sexist language is seen from the feminist perspective as a reflection of the patriarchal system. The patriarchal system is a concept adopted by our societies that denies social, political and individual equality between females and males. This system limits women’s roles to private spheres to maintain male domination in all aspects of life. Many researches have regularly emphasized that masculine generics evoke sexism in cognitive representations and make readers and listeners think more of males than females.
Gender inclusive language is now adopted in most academic institutions, publishing companies and even governmental organizations. Gender inclusive language is known as the language that does not privilege one gender over the other. It is also considered necessary to achieve gender equality at the linguistic level. Accordingly, when females and males are to be addressed, the adequate form to refer each sex should be used.
Dr. Ahmad Samarji, the Head of English Department at Phoenicia University, views gender inclusive language as a priority in the education of university students. According to Dr. Samarji: “I am mainly influenced by the Western approach to education, and from the Australian and Western perspectives, gender inclusive language is necessary. My colleagues and I ask the students to use the pronoun ‘they’, even when referring to one person.” Dr. Samarji also tries to teach his students not to associate a profession with a certain gender, employing terms as ‘police officer’ rather than ‘policeman’ when the sex is unknown.
Ms. Hana Dakwar, a feminist and an English instructor at PU, has also said that she is working on changing the use of sexist language in her classes. Ms. Dakwar said that she deducts grades when students use male pronouns to refer to words related to both sexes. She also added that her students are requested to use “they/their” or “he/she”, and many students have already started employing gender-neutral pronouns in their writing. She explains, however, that when it comes to speaking in English, the students unconsciously revert to using male pronouns to refer to both sexes.
Not everyone is aware of the impact that language can have on our lives. It is true that attempts to eliminate sexist language might not solve the gender inequality problem. Nonetheless, if you believe that women should have the same social, political and private rights as men, you should know that addressing linguistic norms is a good starting point. The use of gender inclusive language can help change the belief that women’s roles are limited in life.
- Danna Mroueh
Communication and Social Media Student