Our language does not have eyes, but it may make things visible or invisible.
Slovak has the ability to “see” grammar genders and tell you about “male” and “female” though we do not always use it. Although the name for a mixed group of men and women is considered neutral, it is worthwhile to recall what it means. For instance, we may say that “students/študenti” of your school won the competition, even though there also “female winners”. We make their contribution invisible by using only the male gender. Suppose there were four girls and one boy, is it not weird that despite a 4:1 ratio we still use the word “students/študenti” in male grammar gender?
English is no different – even a girl can refer to a group of girls as “you guys.” Many professions reveal a professional’s sex too. Why do we need to know what sex someone is who is serving food (waiter/waitress), acting well (actor/actress), saved the day (hero/heroine), rents a room (landlord/landlady) or takes care of the dead’s paperwork (executor/executrix)? Did that law get written by a congressman or congresswoman?
Women may feel invisible when labelled with the male grammar gender. For example, we use a male grammar gender for a group of teachers in Slovak (učitelia) when we really speak about female teachers. But the worst is that this type of communication here is so deep-rooted and internalised that not even many women may realize they are being made invisible through the insensitive use of language.
WHY SHOULD WE EVEN BE BOTHERED BY IT?
A language doesn’t just describe reality, it also creates it. We use language to give things strength. If we speak about women in managing positions, it makes them visible both in public and in the way we think about the world. Making women more visible may also make them stronger. And when we have a female president (Slovak: prezidentka) and we use this word, more and more young girls will hear it and feel they can become one since it will be normal for them. Furthermore, if we think only about teachers, managers, chefs, scientists, or citizens in a male grammar gender, we deprive ourselves of a significant aspect of our society. After all, women make more than a half of our entire population – and that’s more than enough to count.
The language we use often makes women invisible or underestimates them. The reason behind it is that we often connect positive attributes such as strength, dominance, and assertiveness with masculinity, while negative ones such as weakness, submissiveness, or passivity are considered feminine.
WHY WOULD “A MAN’S WORD” BE WORTHY AND “GIRL TALK” WORTHLESS?