For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. – T.S. Eliot
Think before you speak. This command has been yelled at us numerous times from childhood through to early adulthood. But does anyone actually take the time to analyze his or her words? And I don’t mean organizing your thoughts or choosing the best words for the circumstance. I mean really think about words and phrases themselves.
For instance, let’s take the phrase “male nanny.” I’m sure you have used this phrase a few times in your life and probably saw the Friends episode about it. But in reality, this marker and others like it are pretty sexist. Why is it necessary to identify as a “male” nanny and why is Greg Focker a “male” nurse? The problem here is that these sexist terms imply that certain occupations should be inhabited by a certain gender and if that is not the case, something is odd. And usually this oddity results in ridicule. Now is that really any way to go through life? Why can’t we all just do what we want to do and live in non-sexist harmony?
Another major problem with our language is the use of man-linked terminology. Examples include the phrases mankind, man-made, and my personal favorite, “man and wife” (luckily most people have abandoned this send-off and request “husband and wife” to be said at the conclusion of their “I dos”). In these instances, “man” is used to refer to “all.” Take words like mailman, chairman, and spokesman. The problem with using such language, as stated by author Diana Ivy, is that it reinforces the “man-as-standard” problem. Thankfully, the non-sexist equivalents of these words are easy to use and much more appropriate. So next time you’re having a casual conversation, try to implement the terms mail carrier and chairperson instead.
Of course it’s somewhat naïve to think that changing a few letters in a word will immensely change a society, so luckily that is not the objective here. You see, the more we eliminate social, political, and economic instances of sexism, however small they may be, the better off future generations are. If we start now, our kids will grow up and male nanny won’t even be a part of their vernacular. And maybe people who choose to pursue that career path won’t feel isolated or out of place. By taking the time to think before we speak, forced gender roles and constructions in our language will be one less thing we have to worry about.