Free Essay with the Definition of Sexism and Sexist Language

Published: 2022-03-18
Free Essay with the Definition of Sexism and Sexist Language
Essay type:  Definition essays
Categories:  Religion Human sexuality
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1877 words
16 min read

Sexism is loosely defined as the culture of regarding one gender as more superior to the other. Piercey, (2000) notes that sexism in our current society mainly involves the perception of women being inferior to women. The scholar argues that this social phenomenon is reflected in the actions, language, mannerisms, and policies in our society. Piercey also notes that sexism is deep-rooted in our social constructs because of continued institutionalization of its views. One of the ways in which sexism was entrenched in the society was through the language used, especially English (Piercey, 2000). The scholar cites that the English language is a depiction of sexist culture because it carried notions that portrayed women as inferior to men. Male favoritism is obviously seen in the English language especially in the vocabulary where males have more positive words than females (Piercey, 2000).

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Sexist language is defined as language that shows bias towards one gender by portraying it as superior to the other (Lei, 2006). Lei, (2006) however agree that currently, sexist language favors men to women. Language is believed to be a mirror of the society's beliefs and cultures (Lei, 2006). The scholar, therefore, believes that sexist language simply points to the inherent sexist culture in our social circles. It includes perceptions that males are the stronger gender hence occupied positions of power and prestige in our societies. Sexist language can also be called "unnecessarily gendered language" according to (Sarrasin, Gabriel, & Gygax, 2000). This language includes words and expressions that needlessly distinguish genders or discriminate other genders (Sarrasin, Gabriel, & Gygax, 2000). Sarrasin, et al., (2000) gives examples such as the use of masculine words as generic forms such as "he" and "man". In a nutshell, Piercey, (2000) believes that sexist language is a way of cementing sexist perceptions. Lei, (2006) links unnecessarily gendered language to our social realities, and Sarrasin, et al., (2000) believe that gender inequality is heavily influenced by our language.

Sexism and sexist language in religion

Mikolajczak and Pietrzak, (2014) introduce the concept of ambivalent sexism and benevolent sexism. They postulate that religion played a role in the institutionalization of these types of sexism in our society. Ambivalent sexism is defined as associating a certain gender with both positive and negative qualities (Mikolajczak & Pietrzak, 2014). This phenomenon has mainly been applied to women where they are regarded as gentle, humble and caring (positive) but also viewed as weak and manipulative beings (negative). Benevolent sexism is portrayed in the notion that women are purer than men in a moral perspective (Mikolajczak & Pietrzak, 2014). Women are however viewed as weaker than men hence should be "protected" by men. Even though associating women with moral superiority may seem like a good thing, it actually traps them into traditional roles. The result is placing a bigger burden of moral responsibility on women (Mikolajczak & Pietrzak, 2014). This creates a sexist tendency of frowning on women more when they depart from traditional roles assigned to them.

Religion is accused of entrenching sexism because of their conservative stances. Religious leaders and their followers tend to favor a continuation of traditional cultures to guarantee societal stability (Mikolajczak & Pietrzak, 2014). This approach makes them continue embracing sexism either knowingly or unknowingly. This is because sexism developed as a way of assigning traditional roles to specific genders (Weatherall, 2015). The purpose of introducing the link between sexism, sexist language, and religion is for the purposes of the body of this paper. The focus will be on Biblical scriptures which are associated with Christianity. Since the scriptures were translated into the English language, there is likely to be sexist language. This is due to the nature of the English language itself as explained in the introduction, and the sexist culture that envelopes religion as stated by Mikolajczak and Pietrzak, (2014).

Instances of sexist language in the Old Testament of the Bible

Masculinity of God

God is a spirit, therefore does not belong to a specific gender because spirits do not possess physical bodies (Day & Pressler, 2006). Since gender is based on the physical nature of our bodies, it is safe to say that God is gender neutral by virtue of being a spirit. The scriptures in the Old Testament, however, give a contradictory perception. It is common knowledge that most metaphors, pronouns, and imagery that refers to God in the scripture are masculine (The Holy Bible, New King James Version, 1982). In Deuteronomy 4:15-16, God reminds the Israelites that they did not see any form of the Lord to warn them against creating an illustration of God. In fact, at the end of verse 16, the warning includes trying to depict God in either a male or female likeness. It is clear from this verse that God was cautioning the Israelites against associating a spirit with a particular gender. This lends further credence to the notion that God is gender-neutral.

This warning seemed to have applied to images and sculptures but not to the semantics of the scriptures. For instance, in Isaiah 6:2-3, God is referred to using the pronouns "he" and "his". Here is the last line of verse 3, "The whole earth is full of His glory (Isaiah 6:3)." There are also many other instances in chapter 6 where God is associated with masculine pronouns. This is a good example of an unnecessarily gendered language where a spirit is given a male persona. Utilisation of language in this way creates the perception that males are the superior gender because of attributing a superior being to the male gender. Another controversial use of sexist language is in one of the sentences of Hosea 11. "For I am God, and not man (Hosea 11:9)." At face value, the sentence may be interpreted to mean that God is actually buttressing further the nature of gender-neutrality. It can even be taken as an indictment of scriptures that award male attributes to God. When analyzing this verse in its proper context, however, reveals the ugly head of normalized sexist language in the scriptures. In this verse, God is emphasizing a Holy attribute unlike that of human beings. The sentence was not only directed at males but all humans. The translators of the scripture used the word "man" to refer to everyone irrespective of the gender. This is just one of the many instances where the scriptures use masculine words to represent both men and women; a perfect example of sexist language.

One needs to further read the same chapter to grasp the extent of sexist language ingrained in the Holy book. Take a look at some lines in Hosea 11:10,

"He will roar like a lion,

When he roars,

Then His sons shall come"

First, we observe that God is represented by the male pronouns "he" and "his" despite proof that God is indeed gender-neutral. A simile is also used in the verse where the roar of God is compared to that of a lion. This may not sound like a big deal until we realize that a female lion is called a lioness. The word lion may refer to either a male animal or be representative of males and females. Either way, the word is still sexist and this is not a result of the religion's bias but an indictment of the English language. This is an example of an unnecessarily gendered language where the word "lion" represents both male and female animals. This diminishes the impact of the word "lioness" and gives more weight to the masculine version of the same. While this may not be the intention of translators, it shows how the English language plays a role in cementing sexism even in trivial conversations. The evidence lies in the perspective of the reader when they encounter that sentence. Most people would associate the roar of God to that of a male lion upon reading that sentence.

Another instance of sexism in the same verse is seen in the application of the word "sons". The sentence was obviously meant to mean that God's people will come. The translators of the Bible, however, used the word "sons" to represent all of God's people. This is a blatant example of deliberately using masculine words in powerful contexts to advance the sexist agenda. Anyone reading the text will consciously or subconsciously understand that only males will answer to God's call because the scripture distinctly uses the word "sons". Is it that females are not part of God's entourage to answer the call or does it reflect the open gender bias of scholars who wrote the scriptures? Smart money is on the latter. To understand the usage of this type of language, one has to comprehend the social context that dominated the times when the scriptures were written. During those ancient times, the society was extensively sexist in that women had no stake in the important events in the society. Their place was only in the home to carry out domestic chores and take care of the children. This phrase in the scripture, however, anticipates for brave, noble people to answer to God's roar. It is therefore understandable that the authors of the scripture would use the word "sons" because men were perceived as the brave gender. This kind of sexist language shows the extent of sexist beliefs during the past years. The reason why the authors did not use "sons and daughters" or "people" instead of "sons" shows that they did not even contemplate the possibility of women answering to God's call. This is in essence sexist.

The scriptures have also masculinised God by using the word "father" in a symbolic nature to refer to God. For instance, in Jeremiah 31:9, "For I am a Father to Israel." By referring to God as a father figure gives more positive weight to fathers than mothers. The roles of the fathers in the society end up to be perceived as more important than those of mothers because God is associated with them. This perhaps played a role in developing a general perception that women's traditional roles in the society are less important and trivial. The traditional roles of staying at home to take care of children, cook and clean the home are regarded as inferior. This is because they were initially the preserve of women hence their roles were condemned as less important compared to those of men in those days. That tag has not been dropped yet and maybe Christianity played a part by exalting fatherhood and the accompanying roles at the expense of motherhood. There are many other instances where God has been referred to as a father as evidenced in Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 64:8 and 1 Chronicles 29:10. Another instance of masculinization of God is seen in a phrase in Isaiah 9:6, "Prince of Peace". Here the word "Prince" is used to refer to God. This propagates the theme of using masculine forms throughout the Old Testament to portray God who is gender-neutral.

Use of masculine words as generic terms

A good instance is an excerpt from Psalms 8,

"What is man that you are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You visit him?" (Psalms 8:4)

"You have put all things under his feet," (Psalms 8:6)

The verses are describing how human beings have been favored by God such that they were given dominion over every living creature on earth. The conundrum here presents itself when the authors use the words "man", "son of...

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