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What Is the Relationship Between Gender and Discourse?

In sociolinguistics and other related areas of academia, discourse is usually defined as the relationship between
language and its real-world context. Many researchers and theorists relate discourse specifically to power structures
in a given society, and this is the area where there is the most overlap between gender and discourse. Approaches
to gender and discourse research may analyze the way language reflects or influences gender stereotypes, or they
may discuss the differences between how men and women use language.
Much use of the word discourse in the late 20th and early 21st centuries was influenced by the work of the French
philosopher Michel Foucault, who defined the use of language and other sign systems as a means to control
people's actions. Drawing on Foucault's theories, many researchers have analyzed gender in relation to existing
social and cultural power structures. Some theorists argue that the way language is used re-enforces existing power
structures, while others claim that discourse simply reflects the existing state of affairs. The relationship between
power and discourse may also be viewed as cyclical or mutually re-enforcing: social structures influence language,
and language influences social structures. Foucaultian approaches to gender and discourse tend to focus on the
relationship between gender and power.
Some research focuses on the difference between how men and women are portrayed in discourse. For instance,
some studies of gender and discourse analyze the way men and women are viewed in public communication, such
as advertising or TV. The goal of such analysis is often to reveal the unspoken assumptions about gender
interactions and the underlying power structures that these interactions reveal.
On the other hand, a significant portion of gender discourse studies analyzes the difference between how women
and men themselves use language. These types of studies almost always concentrate on a particular culture or subculture. For example, one study of Malagasy-speaking people revealed women's speech to be more direct in that
cultural context, while men's speech was more round-about. This study provoked debate about the types of power
wielded when each style of communication was used.
Across many different cultures, women's speech styles are often found to have power within domestic
circumstances, while men's speech is believed to be more powerful in public settings. Most theorists believe that
this difference is due primarily to the way boys and girls are socialized from a young age, rather than from innate
biological differences between the sexes. They may disagree, however, about whether these differences constitute
a form of societal oppression of women. Those who identify as gender-egalitarian or gender-liberal may argue that
these differences should not exist. On the other hand, some people, such as difference feminists, would respond
that although the power assigned to women in society is of a different type than that assigned to men, it is not an
inherently unequal system.

What Is Gender Sensitivity?

Gender sensitivity is the act of being aware of the ways people think about gender, so that individuals rely less on
assumptions about traditional and outdated views on the roles of men and women. In language and the humanities,
this is often expressed through peoples language choice. People can choose more inclusive language that doesnt
define gender, and many new words that are gender neutral have entered languages like English to substitute for
more gender specific terms.
For centuries, many words referring to all people were specifically masculine. Terms like man, and mankind,
which are used to describe all human beings, exclude females. While some people argue that such terms do include
women, its been argued that these words have a belittling effect on women. True gender sensitivity, it is said,
moves past these terms to include all and exclude none.
It is further contended by experts that the use of such terms is by no means innocent, and they have a negative
cultural effect felt beyond the words. By making women either absent or non-apparent in terms like mankind, they

become worth less and society will see them as possessing less value. This societal view in extreme forms is of
detriment and corresponds todiscrimination and even, arguably, things like greater violence against women.

In language and the humanities, this argument is accepted and a number of substitute words like humankind,
express the gender sensitivity of the present. In the late 1980s, when Star Trek: The Next Generation began to air, a
noted and more gender sensitive substitution differed from the original series. The opening narration changed so
that where no man has gone before, become where no one has gone before, with a great deal of emphasis on
the word one.
Some feminists suggest changing basic words with a masculine element to those with a specifically feminine
element. Terms like herstory have been proposed for history. This substitution merely transfers the power from
masculine to feminine, however, disregarding the male gender. A common compromise is to use gender-neutral
terms so that males and females are both included.
Such terms can be obvious, like firefighter and police officer, in place of fireman or policeman. Pronouns are often
considered carefully, too, and writers may take several tactics to remain gender neutral. They may oscillate back
and forth between male and female pronouns, use plural pronouns that lack gender bias, or they use terms like
one. Being gender sensitive with pronoun choice often takes work.
At the core of gender sensitivity in language is the goal of stripping away assumptions about limits of gender, and
this benefits men and women. A stay at home parent isnt automatically a mom, but can be a dad too. Such
sensitivity from a language basis offers more choice and gives people the opportunity to view each other as
individuals with different capacities, shedding assumptions about the traditional roles men and women may fill.

Gender issues are as sensitive as it is complicated, affecting both men and women regardless of
their lives status quo. However, for the vulnerable poor women who are living in the archaic
concept of men are stronger and women are for breeding, defining issues relative to gender
sensitivity paves the way for equality, empowerment, self-respect and sustainable development.
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