Gender Bias in Communication

Comm Skills
Typography
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

The World is a complicated place to live in but there is no other place to go. The alternative we have is to correct some ways of living and some of the words we use to establish our existence. When these words go wrong, we need to check how to mend the ways and put our best words forward. In this pandemic age, there is one more sense-demic happing. We are biased in our use of language when it comes to Gender Sensibility, Equality and Equity.

Using a language to say what we intend to say is what we understand as communication. The competence to communicate impressively and earn the desired result is the thing millions of us hunt for. Some get to say what they exactly want to, with the desired feedback and some of us fail sometimes with the required improvements known to us. While we tend to claim our ownership over Communication Skills or Soft-Skills, we need to look at a significant vertical of English Language Usage. When it comes to the way we speak English in INDIA, the paradigm has not shifted to the rational side, even in the so-called 'modern age'.

When we say gender bias in a language it doesn't mean that we are talking about a particular gender but in the case of English, the particular bias is usually the preference of the masculine over the feminine.

(Excerpt from ProofReadNow - This article on ProofReadNow has some useful guidelines to follow)

What Is Gender Bias in Writing?

Gender bias in writing occurs when writers:

  • Only speak to men or women in their writing (automatically assuming their audience consists of only males or only females).
  • Only refer to men or women within the content itself that they’re writing (i.e., not giving examples and resources that include both women and men).
  • Automatically associate certain thoughts, actions, emotions, or objects to men and or women (i.e., “Get him that power tool he’s always wanted” or “She’ll love that shopping spree sweepstakes.”)

Avoiding gender-bias writing isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about actively ensuring you’re not alienating or ignoring an entire gender in your writing when you’re speaking to an audience that will most likely consist of both genders (i.e., people in the workplace, readers of a text book, and readers of marketing and advertising materials).

The above explanation seems insightful and also paves the way to invite you towards a better understanding of the means to avoid such a fall in our thoughts. 

Gender-inclusive usage of language does not mean that we start talking about the policies of the governments or about other gender-related issues. The issues need to be addressed, discussed and debated but the concern for now, as a primary thing is how we speak and write in a language. It is to be acknowledged that unknowingly, many of us - may be MOST OF US - sometimes end on the wrong side with the bias in our words. Using the stereotyped vocabulary is what calls for a radical change immediately. 

In India, and in the countries like us where English came as a foreign or second language, unfortunately, competence does not mean the native-like comfort in the usage. Neither we understand that connotations and contexts are the souls of a language and it is by participation and practice that we become 'perfect' in a language. This failure to instil sense and sensibility has caused havoc in communication when it comes to gender bias in language. Once we set the ball rolling in speech and writing, it becomes part of the common culture, giving food to the stereotypes to live like parasites. 

“Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.” says Bertolt Brecht and of course we understand his "MAN" does include all. But those days were not that sensitive to the use of such references to one gender and leaving all others. But, now there is a lot to do in everything that sends across a message. It has to be crafted well. There are norms, rules, codes and demands from our communication. 

We do not need to get into the conceptual frames of Gender Binarism or some other cultural theories and philosophies. Looking at our daily routine and the conversations that happen, we shall be able to find those pain-areas where we need to mend and mind our words. Be it a workplace or our visit to some public spot or some gathering in the neighbourhood, our words need to be watched. 

Prefer to use Gender-neutral terms wherever possible. Anything that goes into writing from your side must not be a thing you feel sorry about. This might not be a trouble for now but in the times to come when our digital footprints shall define how the world remember us. Along with the Gender stereotypes, avoid religious and social status bias as well. We can discuss the same in some other post.

  • Know Your Audience and craft your speech for the ones who shall be there.
  • Do not Assign Gender or Use the stereotyped terminologies.
  • Refer to ethnicities and cultural, social, political identities with enough care and concern.
  • Writing for Web shall need a Gender-Neutral Approach in Writing and Speech.
  • Making of YouTube Tutorials or Presentations shall be watched beyond gender, communities and countries and even age-groups, hence, stay alert to take a rational path.
  • Do not get trapped in the Appeasement Cage by unsuccessfully attempting to please everyone; if it sounds irrational and a gimmick, do not pay your time for this.

We do have rules and regulations in place under many laws in our states and countries. Using a Language is about ease and so, you need to sell your peace to have this skill in communication. Fortunately, this is not difficult anymore. There are materials and experts to specify the style-sheets for this. Here we see one of the finest talks available over the web:

Watch this video by Leslie Cox on Youtube: Avoiding Biased or Sexist Language

Stanford Graduate School of Business has also shared an assertive talk:

 

Here’s a list of gendered nouns and some alternatives listed below. Check a thesaurus for alternatives to gendered nouns not included in this list. (Source)

Gendered Noun Gender-Neutral Noun
man person, individual
mankind people, human beings, humanity
freshman first-year student
man-made machine-made, synthetic, artificial
the common man the average person
chairman chair, chairperson, coordinator, head
mailman mail carrier, letter carrier, postal worker
policeman police officer
steward, stewardess  flight attendant
actor, actress actor
congressman legislator, congressional representative
Sir (in “Dear Sir,” etc.) Dear Sir or Madam, Dear Editor, Dear Members of the Search Committee, To Whom it May Concern

 

Western Michigan University has a Writing Style Guide for their students and is for all of us to refer to as learners of the English Language. You can download these 03 pages for your reference. 

Referral and quotes can be added in any number to this blog and you can also find hundreds of tips on "How to Avoid Gender Bias in Communication" but what matters and shall work as the panacea is the INTENT. If I do not want to impose my gender priorities or choice on anyone, gradually my intent shall find the right words right alternatives.

This understanding of being Gender-inclusive does not demand you to be a feminist or on the said of any kind of patriarchy. It is about our cultural communication, intellectual maturity and sensibility. Basically, it is about being human, not being a man or a woman. There are no rules for writing well because the ownership is on you. In your speech as well, you say what you feel appropriate. Just expand this Righteousness a bit to make it more mature and 'for all'. My literary muse, Ernest Hemingway said about writing that we need to view it as an iceberg. Allow the receivers to view its connotations and come up to you with appreciations for your intellect and inclusive mindset, not the bias.

About the Author
Author: Parveen Sharma
'You Create Yourself' is the belief that drives the EklavyaParv Life Long Learning Mission. The trilogy of Enhance-Empower-Encourage motivates us and we share learning contents on Communication Skills, EdTech, Life Skills, Blended & Innovative Learning and Insights about Education. These resources are Open Educational Resources (OERs) under CC-BY-NC-SA licence. Parveen is an EdTech Evangelist and has been working in the field of Innovation-driven Education for more than a decade. He writes and delivers training on EduSoMedia, E-Learning, OERs, MOOCs, EdTech, ICT, Blended and Flipped Learning, Academic Intervention, Classroom Makeover, Employability Enhancement, EdTech and Teacher-Student Learning. EklavyaParv is the celebration of his belief in the Learning Spirit of Mankind!

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS