She’s a boss lady! – What is Gendered Language and Why Is It Offensive?

I mean, we never say “boy boss”.

“Gendered Language” is an umbrella term for language that has an underlying bias toward a particular gender. It refers to a lot of the words and phrases we are subjected to in our routine lives but don’t seem to have a problem with. One primary example is using “he/him/his” to refer to people in general. Or, thinking of a man when it comes to high-regard positions such as a doctor, professor, entrepreneur, etc. It’s essentially the connotation that “man” is the norm and anything other than that is quite different and needs to be specified. 

So, whenever women enter a male-dominated field, they tend to use this language or have people use it for them. In some sense, it is empowering because we do live in a society where women are not given the same amount of opportunities, resources, or support as a man. We have not yet reached a place where a woman’s efforts are highlighted as much that’s truly sad.

Let me give you a small example. Andy Murray is a commendable tennis player and in one of his interviews, a reporter said, “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic gold medals in tennis. How do you feel?” This happened in 2016, by which time Serena and Venus Williams had already won 4 gold medals each. Their accomplishments were completely ignored. 

This scenario existed because the man was seen as a person so he was the “first person” but the women were only seen as female so it was the “first woman”. (Murray responded quite well to this sexism, by the way, you can watch the video here). 

a little girl holding a sign, "fight like a girl"
Let’s make this an empowering phrase.

We might intend to use these terms to highlight a woman’s efforts because it’s an exception for a woman to make it. But, we are not using them to highlight her struggles or hard work to get there, we are simply stating, “oh, she made it in a man’s field even though she’s not as qualified”. It is said with a condescending surprise.

I feel like whenever we use sexist language or gendered terms such as boss lady, girl boss, SHeo, etc, we are restricting our use. The reason behind this indication of a female is that it is not normal to see women in positions of power. And while that is truly sad (and the true problem here), specifying these terms doesn’t make it better. 

It makes it restrictive with the meaning that the word itself belongs to a man. So, when a woman does it, you need to specify because that wasn’t clear. The default is considered to be a man. Shouldn’t terms like astronaut, analyst, and professor be gender-neutral?

Yes, it makes for a good story that she is a woman in a male-dominated field and yes it definitely was harder for her. But she worked hard to be considered equal to a man as a professional- whatever it may be. She didn’t work hard to be considered a female of a man’s normal. 

a woman leading a team of professionals
Leader is a gender-neutral term.

Phrases like female entrepreneurs, female doctors, female engineers, etc are quite common. You can argue that they exist for men too such as male nurses or male teachers. But think about it – “nurse” implies a female while “doctor” implies a male. Women are trained to cook in households, and yet, the word “chef” connotates a man. The same goes for teachers vs professors or principals. Essentially, wherever there is a higher post, you’ll think of a man.

Let’s talk about males in a female-dominated field. There aren’t a lot of those, but still. There are two likely perspectives here. Either, “oh, he’s a nurse, he’s at the level of a woman, he couldn’t make it, he’s weak” or, “oh, how great and humble he is to be working in this easy field”.

A female-dominated field is automatically assumed to be lower and easier and weaker. So whenever a man does it, he’s assumed to be humble, weak, or that he couldn’t make it and that’s not okay.

“A child who’s told she has to do more housework than her brother because she’s a girl, or that she can’t be an astronaut when she grows up because she’s a girl, is likely to say “that’s not fair!” A boy who is told that he cannot play with dolls because he’s a boy, or that he cannot be a secretary when he grows up, may find that unfair as well. But the boy who is told he can’t be a nurse is being told that he is too good to be a nurse. The girl, on the other hand, is essentially being told that she’s not good enough to be a doctor.”

Language and Gender (Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet)

The gendered language affects both genders with different intensities. To me personally, it seems restrictive both ways. A man should be allowed to be a nurse without being considered “weak”. And no, I am not a “girl boss”, I am simply the boss. My gender comes after my profession. That’s my take, what do you think?

(I would like to preface that this blog enlists personal takes and opinions and is no way meant to be imposing or offensive. Take everything written here with a grain of salt.)

Read more in the series here!

2 responses to “She’s a boss lady! – What is Gendered Language and Why Is It Offensive?”

  1. Regarding gendered language, another bias I often notice is that people almost always list the man’s name or the masculine term first (such as “brother and sister”, “husband and wife”, and “Jack and Jill”). I personally vary the order of who to list first, depending on which individual is more important in that particular context. Or if they seem about equal, I choose based on which order sounds better or looks better in writing to me.

    Like

    1. Yes, that’s a good observation. It also happens when addressing a mail such as “Respected Sir/Ma’am”. I will definitely keep this factor in mind in this particular context. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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