ARTS1691 - Language and Sexism

Language isn’t sexist, but unconscious uses do reflect individual/societal attitudes/values.

Grammatical gender is not equal to sexual gender. This is seen in German’s die TURNIP vs das mädchen. Sex is biology. Grammar is a learned complex of masculine/feminne/transgenderetc, defined by a given culture.

Dictionaries are subject to contextual views, often in the example sentences.

e.g. “Manly courage” vs “feminine wiles”


Retronyms are words combined to create a more clarified meaning of a phrase, based on differentiation from more common meanings.

Retronyms can display language sexism

e.g. male nurse, female mp, male stripper

interesting: toyboy vs toygirl, sugardaddy vs sugarmama

Marked/Unmarked Forms and Their Uses

Some words need the marked form to differentiate between them, whereas with others it would be bizarre, for instance:


  • Prince vs Princess
  • Count vs Countess
  • Hero vs Heroine


  • Director
  • Ambassador

Words have different usages depending on their endings, for instance having a Political Heir (either gender) is very different to marrying an Heiress (definitely female).

Perjorative Terms

Perjorative: Expressing contempt or disapproval.

The sexism in language can be seen in terms such as 'spinster' and 'bachelor'; used to describe the same concept, but for different genders and with very different connotations.

Sexist Terminology:

Women get labeled as less than human; food (tart), animals (chick) and prostitutes
Men get labeled as less than manly; sexual practices considered to be unmanly

Boys Will Be Girls - An example of language stereotypes