With increasing awareness among people regarding gender, maybe it’s time we started using gender-inclusive language. Male and female are no longer the only genders people identify with today. Yet, the language we use while addressing people most of the time, seldom acknowledges anyone except the said two. With changing attitude, changing the language we use to address everyone is also a part of accepting non-binary, transgender, binary transgender and even cis-gender people.
Hence to be a more inclusive society, we need to adopt a more inclusive language. Many may deem it unnecessary or too much of an exercise. After all, we have been using this system of he/she-based language since eons. Why change now? Wouldn’t plucking out the deep-seated bones of gender from the flesh of our language be painstaking and exhausting? Yes, it will be. But every monumental change in our society is just that -- painstaking and exhausting. The difficulty level of any task has never deterred us from making positive changes to our social fabric, so why should it now?
Language must represent everyone
Teen Vogue magazine has published an article which suggests various initiatives people can use to siphon out gender from language
This is not just limited to using gender-neutral pronouns. It is about trading words like mankind, ladies/gentlemen, father/mother, man-made and fireman etc, with humankind, folks/everyone, parent, synthetic/artificial and firefighter etc. It also means ensuring use of gender-inclusive language all the time, assuming that those in your company may not identify with binary gender. This is because not everyone wears their gender on their sleeves, especially in the society we currently live in.
- Use of gender-inclusive language is the need of the hour, as more and more people are challenging the binary gender system.
- What we speak is a representation of what the dominant majority stands by. Hence, language speaks an important role in marginalisation of transgender and non-binary community.
- Inclusive language could make people, who do not identify with the binary gender, feel included.
- It is not an easy task, but it is our intent which matters. It could also help us break gender stereotyping in our language, which so many of us abhor.
In the Indian context, it is very difficult to separate language from gender. Most of our population, men and women alike, are extremely conscious of their gender and roles in society. Binary code of language and conduct is extremely popular. It also attributes certain characters across the languages we speak to men and women.
Languages, it seems, have adapted to our biased mindset
Which means it is extremely difficult, yet necessary to initiate a conversation on the practice of gender-inclusive language in India. Because it doesn’t just marginalise non-binary people, but cis people as well. It traps men and women into stereotypes we want to break free from. This is so because like other languages around the world, in our country, what we speak has been long controlled by men who are extremely conscious of their masculinity.
So in a way, what we speak is a representation of what the dominant majority stands by. By not using a more inclusive language, we are telling millions of people that we do not stand by them. Our language is making them feel unwanted.
It is as if we are denying the existence of non-binary peers while they stand right in front of us. How would we feel, if we are meted out such a treatment?
I know it is not easy to practice gender-inclusive language. I myself struggle with it. Such is our scholastic, social and cultural upbringing that this binary code of language in ingrained in our minds. But just because it is difficult, we shouldn’t give up on making an effort. Even the smallest of our initiatives, like opening up with “Everyone” instead of “Ladies and Gentlemen” can show so many people that we care for them.
At the end of the day, it is our intent that matters the most. When this intent is right, the rest will gradually fall into place.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.