International Women’s Day: Women have been written out of power – time is ripe for a new language of equality

Ella Tennant leads Intercultural Communication and language modules and also plays a role in development and teaching for the Liberal Arts degree programme.

Ella’s interest in languages, culture, communication, performance and digital literacy comes from her extensive international experience which includes living, working and conducting research in France, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and Spain. In addition to her roles in Higher Education, Ella has worked in business and management, with her own companies in Hong Kong and Spain, and as a writer and translator.

As we mark International Women’s Day after a year of renewed media attention to issues of gender inequality, it could be that there are more important threats facing women and the survival of our planet, than mere words. But after the #MeToo campaigns, exposure of the gender pay gap, and recent publication of yet more research that challenges the idea of a gendered brain, it is mindboggling to see how “gendered blindness” – described as “the one-size-fits-men approach” in design and tech culture – lives on.

Meanwhile women’s equal contribution to society and culture is ignored. Visible women – those in the public eye or who call out unfair treatment – are subject to scrutiny and treated suspiciously in a way that men are not.

Gender scholars have argued that English is a language made by men for men with the sole purpose of representing and perpetuating their point of view. The way we see the world is therefore shaped by patriarchal traditions and this is evident in most areas of arts, culture and society. It is no surprise then, to see that women are marked as deviant and deficient, or worse, made invisible. In Women and Power, Mary Beard discusses “countless examples of attempts to write women entirely out of public discourse”.

The words we use play a role in this because language has the power to perpetuate gender determinism and, in doing so, to marginalise women. But our words can also be used in inclusive ways to promote equality and social justice. So it can’t be fair that there are more derogatory terms for girls and women than for boys and men (whore, hussy, spinster, hag, are some examples) and that the continued use of generic words or forms – man, mankind – are supposed to be all-inclusive and designate human beings in general. Meanwhile when “woman” is used as a label, it is a category with limiting criteria. Read more via the Conversation