Can language be sexist?

Can language be sexist?


English is not a gendered language unlike Spanish, German or French, however certain words are used to describe women in a pejorative way, when applied to men there are no pejorative connotations. For example, "bossy" which means authoritarian. There are also specific words to describe women in a pejorative way that do not have their equivalent for men such as "bubbly", "frigid", "frumpy" etc... which are even often used in the workplace to describe an employee.

Also, to talk about women you can use "women" or "girls" without this having negative connotations, however if you talk about men by saying "boys" it implies that you find them childish.

There are also no masculine words to say "spinster" (spinster), "working mother" or "career woman" because for these last two words it is obvious that it is not necessary to specify it for men, they are father and work but women are sometimes housewives so it is necessary to specify it with this word.

From a different aspect we find a lot of evolution in the professions, in fact we no longer use the word "Firemen" but rather "Firefighter" to talk about firefighters. However, some words persist such as "manpower" which is the power of man or "mankind" to talk about the human race.


In Spanish, we find the same form of negative feminine words that are peculiar to women such as "Gobernante" which designates a chief and "Gobernanta" which designates a cleaning lady.

But changes have been proposed to feminize the words by using "x" or "e" or "@" to replace "o" and "a".


The French language is no exception to this rule, and there are many masculine words for professions, particularly those that are not used for women during linguistic exchanges, for example, because they have negative connotations. For example, outside your children's primary school, do not use the term "mistress" because it will designate a woman who has an extra-marital affair. Instead, prefer the word teacher, which will be more appropriate in all circumstances.

The grammatical rule that "the masculine always prevails" means that when you talk about a boy and a girl you use "they" rather than "them" to describe them, this also determines the gender of the adjective you will use.

The interesting thing to know is that before the 17th century both terms were correct and it was only afterwards that the dominance of the masculine became apparent.


The German national anthem has recently changed the word "Vaterland", which refers to the father's land, to "Heimatland", which means the homeland.

The terms "Hausmann" to describe a house husband and corresponding to "Hausfrau" for housewives and "Rasfrau" for housewives have also been created.

There is even a whole chapter about sexism in the German language dictionary.


Some people see the use of the masculine as a universal value as a way of relaying women to the second row in order to make them invisible.

This can cause problems and help people who want to circumvent the law, because in Spain an employer refused to pay their wages because it was written by default "trabajadores" which means workers instead of "trabajadoras" for female workers.

In Germany, a customer complained because a bank addressed her in a masculine manner, however both appeals were rejected because the law does not stipulate that a female title should be used.


Studies have shown that when male words about professions are offered to children, they associate the fact that they are masculine with a lack of success for women in the profession.

When they are asked to name 2 writers for example there will be many more men than women cited, whereas when they are asked to name 2 writers the number of women cited increases significantly.

In the same way that women looking for a job will be more likely to apply if the job title is female than if it is male thinking that it is then more suitable for a man.


Within reason and without upsetting the languages as we know them because it will become difficult for natives but impossible for foreigners to adapt to radical changes. We can all be aware to the extent of good judgment of what is right or wrong to use.

Whether the word pen is masculine or feminine apple doesn't matter, the most important thing is that negative adjectives used only to describe women that have no equivalent for men, or even that they are positive when referring to men is a dubious limitation.

As far as the professions are concerned, it would be logical if one were to claim equality between men and women in the world of work, and it would be essential to feminise these terms by adding a letter, for example.

If you would like to discuss sexism in languages and talk about your own experiences you can go to the language exchange section of our Studenz website and discuss your opinion on the subject with people all over the world.

Written by: Lisa Lambert, Staff Writer

Learning Languages