When I encounter the word ‘gender’ I think of male or female in a biological way. I also think of softness and a hardness (not sure how to describe what feels a sub-conscious, inbuilt impression…) influenced by pink and blue - possibly due to seeing this linked with gender discussions on Twitter - and minimally, gender stereotype roles/appearances of men and women. That’s my current underlying stereotype of the word gender. Those impressions above, whether I want to agree with them or not, are the ‘baggage’ I bring to my view of gender, men and women. Having thought about it, I feel a bit embarrassed or ashamed that my unbridled impressions are so cliché and predictable. From the words I’m writing, people could probably make several inferences based on that peeping view into my consciousness, but those inferences would be informed as much by a reader’s stereotype as mine; without dialogue, meaning can only be constructed by the ‘consumer’.
The current language discussion taking place is based on sex-based social structures and the notion that some words are masculine or feminine. Although heated and sometimes unpleasant, there are some really interesting conversations around the theme. For me, what’s missing from these discussions is recognition that the purpose of language is to communicate. Words, letters, symbols - all are systems that were invented to help humans communicate with each other. The debate is focused on whether some of those words and symbols in English are male/female words but I don’t understand how this can be so when both language and the meaning given to it is fluid over time.
My understanding of language is that its meaning is constructed by the users and social contexts. For example, in my locality we are familiar with the terms bredders/bredrin, shank and peng. To shank someone is to stab them but for many the word shank could be associated with lamb and Sunday roasts, which is significantly less violent than the former (sorry, this is the main example I can think of to demonstrate what I’m trying to say). The same word has different meanings depending upon who is using it, how and on the context of the rest of the sentence. In English, I’m not sure words in isolation can be separated into masculine/feminine due to this.
When thinking about gendered language, I think along similar lines and can’t see past language being a social construct; for me, the context of the rest of the sentence and situation determines the connotations that I attach to words such as mastery. As a female footballer I have grown up with terms such as grit, resilience, responsibility and commitment (the latter two are interesting to muse on) but within the context of female teams, leagues and the arena of higher level sport, these words do not appear as masculine to me and having asked other sporty people - limited by the bias of my network - others have said the same. For us, the terms are verbs that help describe expectations of what it means to be a sports person with an underlying implication that this is what is needed for success, regardless of gender. I’ve no degree or further reading to be able to explain why but considering the context, I think it is because those words are closely linked with my identity (and maybe the identity of anyone with a long-term involvement in sport?) so how we’ve internalised their meaning may differ to those who have not experienced a similar background. Is my personality masculine for being successful in sport? I’ve had equal success within art and writing too, does that make my personality feminine? When I see term’s like soft arts, I don’t imagine femininity but rather a spiritual, meditative space. When I see terms such as hard edged sciences, I imagine a unisex lab full of people in white coats with test tubes George’s Marvellous medicine style. I get an impression of activity and teamwork but for arts I feel it as a more solitary activity - this may be because for me, art and writing are solitary activities. My experience, without me explicitly being aware of it, probably influences my view. This is probably true of language too; our perceptions on whether a word is masculine or feminine is influenced not only by our experiences but also by society, however, how we choose to frame and create meaning from those words ultimately lies within us. With this in mind, can there be a generalisation that some words are masculine and some are feminine?