Defining Gender-Inclusive Language: Resistance, Reform and Re-Imagining

Proceedings of The 3rd International Conference on Gender Studies and Sexuality

Year: 2023

DOI:

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Defining Gender-Inclusive Language: Resistance, Reform and Re-Imagining

Marion Bartl

 

 

ABSTRACT: 

Sexism in society is not only mirrored in the structures of language, but these structures also help to perpetuate a patriarchal worldview that foregrounds men’s experiences, solidifies traditional gender roles, and serves to erase non-binary gender identities. In order to break up this cycle, gender-neutral language has been proposed and adopted in various areas of public life across different language communities to varying degrees. However, there does not seem to be a common understanding of what the term gender-inclusive language comprises and what key theoretical assumptions it builds upon. This paper addresses this issue by describing gender-inclusive language as a form of resistance to sexism in language but also a form of reshaping the concept of gender in society.
Building on Frye’s (1983) definition of sexism, I first outline gender-inclusive language as a form of resistance to sexism in language through reforming linguistic structures that encode gender division and hierarchy. Beyond this first reactive definition, I show how gender-inclusive language is not only resisting sexism but is actively involved in the construction of the category of gender within society. This argument is based on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity (Whorf and Carroll, 1956) and Butler’s (1990) theory of gender (re)construction.
While the linguistic structures used in gender-inclusive language may vary across different languages, the underlying mechanisms of sexism can function in the same way. Therefore, I hope that the arguments outlined in this paper can provide theoretical grounding for efforts at feminist language reform across different countries.

keywords: feminist linguistics, feminist theory, gender-neutral language, language reform, non-sexist language