Assignment 6: Language and Gender

Gendered Language and its Effects

The distinction between genders is apparent in many of the languages. It can also be made visible through the use of feminine and masculine pronouns and articles. The German language even uses a neutral article (der, die & das). Contrary to this, in other languages gender differences are not specified grammatically. An excellent example for this is Hungarian. By looking at these examples, it becomes clear that language use and gender do influence each other. But how exactly does language use interact with gender in our day-to-day life? This blog is dedicated to this topic.


Gender does influence our language. Firstly, it can be visible in the form of grammar structures by using certain sex-markings, articles and personal pronouns (Trudgil, 2000, p. 70). Certain type of words can also hint at the gender of the subject or person.

Secondly, the language we use is influenced by the gender driven norms of our societies. These influences can lead to what we call a gendered language. Gendered language usually indicates that there is a certain bias towards a gender. This is especially true for occupations. For example, using the term “policemen” has a bias towards men, while the term stewardess has a bias towards women. Using police officer or flight attend instead, would make it more gender neutral. According to the British Council, “gendered language is commonly understood as language that has a bias towards a particular sex or social gender.” 

Depending on somebody’s social status, occupation or gender, the term appropriate language can have a different meaning. As argued by Mills, socially constructed norms influence what we think is appropriate for a certain gender (p. 265). For example, women are expected to talk nicer and swear less. Deviating from these expectations can be considered impolite.

In this blog, I focus on how socially constructed gender stereotypes influence the language use of women. Nonetheless, it is important to note that gender stereotypes in language use can also effect men as shown in the study of McDowell.


In order to showcase how this gender bias works, I am going to use the US Presidential campaign of 2016 as a case study. During campaigns candidates – for the sake of winning – are likely to use language that is socially acceptable. Thus, they fall in line with that is expected from their gender.

  • Trudgill argues that men are much more likely to swear because “social values and sex-roles affect speakers’ attitudes towards linguistic variants” (p.74). According to USAPP’s article, while Hilary Clinton did not swear publicly, President Trump did.

“It is different for Hillary Clinton. The rules about what constitutes appropriate language are stricter for women than they are for men. While people 25 and under tend to expect that both genders should swear frequently, using words of similar offensiveness, people of older generations often still have the idea that swearing is not “ladylike.”” (Time)

  • There is also a great bias surrounding the speech delivery. During the campaign Hilary Clinton was attacked several times for not smiling or shouting. Donald Trump was not criticized for such things. As argued by Trudgil, double standards are very much present (p. 69).

“When people perform gender in ways that don’t fit into gender norms, their existence becomes socially unintelligible, and so we police their actions to bring them into conformity.” (Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal)

  • According to Mills women are much more careful with using powerful and assertive speech forms because these are often associated with masculinity (p. 272).  President Trump did use a more assertive and confident style, while Secretary Clinton was more tentative (using the word “maybe”).

“Female candidates have to be more qualified than their male opponents to succeed in an election because many voters have a hard time seeing women as leaders” (HuffingtonPost)

For a more detailed analysis please check out the following articles about the relationship between politics, gender and language use. My short analysis is also based on these articles.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Socially constructed stereotypes influence the language women are “supposed” to be using. I am not immune to these stereotypes either. I have sometimes caught myself thinking that although I was not really bothered by men using swear words, I was much more taken aback when women did the same thing in public. I always wondered why. The answer to that probably lies in the social norms that are placed upon us from an early age on. Girls are taught to always show class and poise and talk in a certain way.

It is our gender driven society that created this gendered language. A society that is driven by norms based on gender stereotypes will also use a language that is gendered. In turn, the gendered language just further reinforces these stereotypes. I believe that as a society we have come far with regard to gender issues in the recent years. Nonetheless, there still room for improvement. Maybe we can start adjusting our language use as to not reinforce these stereotypes.

A great example of this change is how the R-rating (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian because of adult content) of the movie “Hustle” got legally overturned to a PG-13 rating (Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers). During the arbitration, it was successfully proven that it was sexist to give Hustle – which has two female leads – an R-rating since comedies with male leads, using the same amount of sex-related jokes, were given much less restrictive ratings.

Let me know what you think about the relationship between language and gender in the comment section below.



A Little Extra: Hungarian Lesson 5

One Comment

  • lise

    Hey Monika! What a nice blog! It is really professional, your articles are really clear, well written and interesting! I really enjoyed this post and the lesson of Hungarian! Hope that next time I will see you I’ll be able to practice a bit! Thanks for those articles and wish you all the best with everything !


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