For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience – Ingrid Bengis
Words. Dontcha just love ‘em? But sometimes the 140 characters of twitter are just too short to record things that happen to our kids because of their gender. Here’s a slightly longer story that happened at the weekend that really sums up why we keep a diary about these things.
We were visiting the playground of an aeroplane museum with the children’s cousins. Five kids, aged 5-2. Two girls, three boys.
Things that were said by their Grandmother included:
D’ya see a patten here at all. Well do ya? How confusing the world must have been for these kids at the end of the day, when their parents tried to explain to them why *all* toys are for *everyone*!
Yes, the language we use shapes the way children understand the world. Language, among other things, tells kids what roles people of their gender will fulfil when they are older. They can try to kick against it, but there’s often someone there to tell them they’re wrong about wanting to break those boundaries.
Lets look at that first example of language where someone uses ‘he’ to describe the gender of someone (or something, an aeroplane in this case) even though they don’t know the gender of that person/thing. In Brian D Earp’s recent article from the Journal of Communication and Culture on so-called he/man generics, he explains why it’s damaging:
“This has the effect of minimizing women‘s importance and diverting attention away from their very existence. The result is a sort of invisibility – in the language itself, in the individual‘s mind‘s eye, and in the broader social consciousness.”
As always @Genderdiary, is here to bring you good news. Earp’s research shows that use of the masculine generic pronoun in English has fallen dramatically in recent years, while nonsexist alternatives have gradually taken their place.
Earp recorded a marked decline in the use of the term “mankind”, while “Humankind,” on the other hand, saw a 1,890-percent increase (from 63 articles in 1970-1971 to 1,192 articles in 1999-2000). “He or she,” (rather than just using “he”) for its part, saw a 1,194-percent increase. It’s gratifying that this is already happening. But you can help it along too…
You won’t be surprised that we’d encourage you to use gender-neutral language with kids when you can. In our house, we are not remotely militant about it, but, boy, girl, man, woman, him, her etc are less likely to be heard than kids, children, people, person, them and they.
Those who want to accuse us of terrible political correctness are very welcome to do it, but they’lll find that they’re fighting against a trend in language that is happening anyway. By releasing as many parts of language as possible from the limits of gender, you allow children to choose for themselves whether something is relevant to them. The conversations that were had on that outing sent our children clear messages that gender was relevant to what we were seeing. Boys and men like aeroplanes, is the message they got. The message we got is that by using more neutral language we’re helping to keep options open for our kids, and our daughter will be getting a remote control aeroplane for Christmas.