We Speak Up: Firsthand Experiences of Gendered Language

This month we were very excited to publish Speaking Up by Allyson Jule – a book that looks at how language use and related ideas about gender play out in the home, workplace and online. In this post the MM team considers their own experiences with language and gender.

Elinor

One of the most frustrating thing about sexist language is that it is so ingrained in people’s everyday speech that they are often completely unaware of the significance and implications of the words they use. One word that particularly infuriates me is that of ‘manning’ a stand. As we attend conferences a lot and the majority of our staff is female I really take objection when people use the verb ‘to man.’ While many people wouldn’t necessarily be offended by it, I feel that it is very easy to use the word ‘staffing’ instead which removes the gender connotation completely.

Another issue that I often face is that of titles. Frequently, I am asked whether I’m ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ and when I reply ‘neither’ people are sometimes confused. I’m glad that the term ‘Ms’ exists in English so that I have an alternative to Miss and Mrs but I really don’t see why women should be forced to use a title to denote their marital status when men do not. As a married woman who hasn’t taken my husband’s name, neither Miss or Mrs is correct but I still find Ms is not an option that is always available or that everyone even understands. I would be happy if we did away with titles completely as in my mind it only confuses people and creates an impression of inequality between the sexes.

Tommi

The recent publication of Speaking Up has given me a few moments to pause and reflect on my own use of language in my professional life, and how this might be seen by other people. One of the habits that I have been trying to train myself out of for years has been referring to my female colleagues collectively as “the girls”….

The term arose years ago when we had a larger office, and the majority of the staff and directors were tending closer to retirement age. We had a new intake of younger staff members, who happened to be women. Often my mum, Marjukka Grover, then editorial director, would say something like “are the girls coming to lunch?”. The term stuck, and was a lighthearted way of referring to a group of colleagues and distinguishing the younger ones from the older ones.

Fast forward 15 years, and those “girls” are now Editorial Director, Head of Production and Head of Marketing themselves, and have been joined by another two extremely capable women. They all know very well that I have the utmost respect for them, and that without them this business would be in desperate trouble. I manage mostly to refer to them outside the office as “my colleagues”, but every now and again, usually when we are talking about something social rather than business related, I’ll call them “the girls” and I’ll kick myself for doing it. Will I ever be able to train myself completely out of this habit? I doubt it, although I am getting better, and since one of my colleagues recently commented that she really hates that term, I will try even harder in the future. If any of you catch me using the term, please feel free to challenge me!

Anna

At 20 weeks pregnant with my elder daughter, I’d just found out at a scan that everything was ok with the baby, and that she was a girl. I decided to buy some baby clothes to mark the occasion, and so I took myself to Mothercare to buy some vests and sleepsuits. It was like stepping into another world – the baby clothes were rigidly divided by gender, pink for girls and blue for boys (my mum bought a set of blue sleepsuits with penguins on them for my daughter to the absolute horror of the shop assistant, who kept trying to tell her she was making a mistake). The ‘boy’ clothes encouraged boys to do things – drive tractors, fly planes, run fast – or be the boss. The ‘girl’ clothes encouraged baby girls to aspire to be princesses or defined them in relation to other people or how they looked: there were racks and racks of ‘Daddy’s Little Cutie’ vests, or ‘I’m so Pretty’ tops. Having lived up to that point in a feminist bubble, it was a rude awakening to discover that messages about gender equality are still something you have to work hard to instil in your children, in the face of prevailing culture.

My daughter is now nearly 7, and it’s clear that some of her contemporaries, brought up on these messages, have internalised and now believe them. One of her friends was told recently by a classmate that she wasn’t a proper girl as she prefers shorts to summer dresses and enjoys sports. The gradual drip, drip of these judgements hurts both girls and boys, men and women, and it turns out that the stereotyping starts at birth, if not before.

Flo

In our office I’m usually the one who answers the phone when it rings and I’m happy to be gatekeeper if needs be. However, we’ve noticed that when answering a cold call, I am often assumed to be a receptionist (I was even referred to as “just the receptionist” by one cold caller), with no authority, knowledge of the business, or decision-making power. Not only is this very insulting to genuine receptionists (surely it’s a mistake to get off on the wrong foot with the person who has access to the entire company), but as we’ve noticed that when Tommi (or for that matter, a male intern) happens to be the one who answers the phone, he is never taken for a receptionist, it could be argued that it’s an assumption based on my voice being identifiable as a young woman’s. Where I would be fielding question after question about who is in charge of accounts or how do I know my boss isn’t interested (I can see him from my desk waving his arms ‘no’), callers generally seem to accept being dismissed in the first instance by a man.

For more information about Speaking Up please see our website

Speaking Up: Understanding Language and Gender

Are the debates about gender/identity really about language? Why are women’s language and voices policed so much more than men’s? Do women really talk any more than men do?

The language women use (and the language used about them) is as controversial as it has ever been. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, the world is becoming increasingly aware of feminism and gender issues.

This month we published our first book for a general audience, Speaking Up by gender studies expert Allyson Jule, which uses current academic research to tackle the most pressing issues facing feminism today including how language use and related ideas about gender play out in the home, workplace and online.

Covering language and gender use in the media, in education, in the workplace, in religion and in relationships, the book engages with current debates about gender and identity and debunks many myths about women’s language.

Allyson Jule

The book aims to provide readers with an accessible introduction to language and gender with real facts rather than opinions and anecdotes. It examines language use through the lens of gendered expectations and raises many questions such as why women’s language is scrutinised so much more than men’s and why many widely held ideas about language and gender are more complicated than they first appear.

Reviews

“Fascinating and hugely informative, Allyson Jule will make you realise just how powerful language is in creating the gender norms that many of us are trying to battle against. This is a brilliant way to understand how language has shaped women’s experience in a patriarchal world. Timely, rigorous, and so important, Jule’s research gives substance and weight to the current feminist conversation.”

Marisa Bate, contributing editor at The Pool and author of The Periodic Table of Feminism

“A highly accessible beginner’s guide for the era of #MeToo and LGBTQ+, but also of neoliberalism and Trump. It will be a welcome addition to the field of gender and language.”

Mary Talbot, author of Language and Gender

“Reading [this book], we feel that [the author] has studied everything that has ever been said on gendered linguistics; she references Foucault and the Kardashians with equal rigour.”

Florence Holmes, The Bookbag

For more information about this book or to buy a copy please see our website.

Double figures for MM Textbooks series!

Key Topics in Second Language AcquisitionNext month we are publishing Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition by Vivian Cook and David Singleton. This text provides an introduction to the most important topics in SLA research. This book marks the 10th in the MM Textbooks series which began with its first book in 2008.

The textbook series aims to bring the topics of our monograph series to a student audience. Written by experts in the field, the books are supervised by a team of world-leading scholars and evaluated by instructors before publication. Each text is student-focused, with suggestions for further reading and study questions leading to a deeper understanding of the subject.

We started the series off in 2008 with Allyson Jule’s A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Gender which gave students a broad introduction to the study of language and gender.

Next came textbooks on bilingual first language acquisition, multilingualism and literacy, sociolinguistics and the law and teaching languages online.

Merrill Swain, Penny Kinnear and Linda Steinman wrote the 7th textbook in the series, Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education. Neomy Storch of the University of Melbourne calls their book “a most welcome addition to the growing literature on sociocultural theory” and “an accessible and highly engaging” introduction to the topic of sociocultural theory.

Judit Kormos and Anne Margaret Smith’s book Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences aims to provide useful advice for language teachers working with students with various kinds of learning difficulties.

Spanish Speakers in the USA by Janet M. Fuller examines the issues of language, culture and identity for Spanish speakers in the US.

MM Textbooks

Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition is due to be published in early April. This and all our textbooks are available as inspection/desk copies and can be ordered on our website: http://www.multilingual-matters.com/about_inspection.asp.

The full list of books in the series is:
A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Gender by Allyson Jule
Bilingual First Language Acquisition by Annick De Houwer
Learning to be Literate by Viv Edwards
An Introduction to Bilingual Development by Annick De Houwer
Sociolinguistics and the Legal Process by Diana Eades
Teaching Languages Online by Carla Meskill and Natasha Anthony
Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education by Merill Swain, Penny Kinnear and Linda Steinman
Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences by Judit Kormos and Anne Margaret Smith
Spanish Speakers in the USA by Janet M. Fuller
Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition by Vivian Cook and David Singleton

If you are currently teaching a course and do not have an adequate textbook, please let us know at info@multilingual-matters.com and we will do our best to fill the gap.

Under African Skies

Multilingual Matters author Allyson Jule shares her experiences of visiting Cameroon to talk about her research on gender roles.

I had been to Cameroon before – about twenty years ago. I married a man whose Canadian parents raised him in Cameroon’s Northwest Province. When I first saw Africa as a young woman, it was to see the place my husband calls home. It was exotic and thrilling but ultimately remote from my own life. However, last year an opportunity arose for me to lead a travel study for ten of my university students to Cameroon. When I told my husband, he jumped at the chance to join me – and he did, along with our children.

Allyson visiting children in Cameroon

I had come across the University of Buea when researching gender roles in Africa more generally. As a feminist scholar, I was happy to discover a rich community of scholars housed at the University of Buea (UB) who were writing about gender issues in Africa. After I read a collection of articles compiled by scholars at UB, I tucked away the idea of visiting the campus one day.

The university was originally established in 1977 as a college for language translation. By 1993, UB had transformed into a fully-fledged university with the Women and Gender Studies department a part of this re-organization. Now with a student population of 14,000 students, the University of Buea is a vibrant centre of innovative scholarship in central Africa, and its Women and Gender Studies programme is a prime example of this. The department offers three degrees: a B.Sc. Double Major, a M.Sc. and a Ph.D. The courses on offer display a rich diversity of topics, ranging from feminist theory to women in agriculture and rural development.

Before setting off on the trip, I studied the university’s website and found faculty research in journals acquired through my own university library. In particular, I came across the work of UB’s Head of Women and Gender Studies and UB’s Director of Academic Affairs, Professor Joyce Endeley, as well as that of her colleague Nalova Lyonga, one of UB’s Deputy vice Chancellors. I contacted Professor Joyce Endeley telling her of my upcoming travel plans and asking if we could meet. It was arranged that I would visit the campus for two days and give two lectures – one to undergraduates and one to graduate students and faculty.

When the day arrived, my husband and children piled into a borrowed jeep and drove me from Limbe to the town of Buea. A bright well-manicured campus of big beautiful trees and flowering bushes stands out on the hill above Buea town and it is within sight of Mount Cameroon, Central Africa’s highest peak.

Much of what I shared came from my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Gender, which I wrote in 2008. My ideas on gendered use of linguistic space caused the most discussion and I was thrilled to have such deep conversations with African scholars who had varying contexts of their own upon which to draw. My idea that teachers in classrooms  ‘gender’ the space by engaging more with their male students was quite-rightly challenged as context specific and reliant on cultural norms. Also, surely the variety of teaching methods would alter this pattern. Perhaps explorations could be done in African contexts concerning gender in classrooms. I was thrilled with the connection and felt like I had met new friends and that more contact would be very possible.

Academics meet up quite regularly for conferences in many countries around the world and I am no exception. I’ve enjoyed plenty of discussions on the issue of gender in the classroom with a variety of scholars around the world, but I have had never had opportunity for such discussions with African scholars.  The professors and students at the University of Buea made me feel so very welcome. I was thrilled with the two day visit. When my husband and children came to collect me at the end of the second day, Prof. Endeley and her colleagues were there to see me off – with hugs!

People listening to Allyson's lecture

Certainly, a highlight of my trip to Cameroon was meeting the students and faculty at the University of Buea. That thirty of them requested copies of my book was also deeply touching, and that Multilingual Matters have now donated these books to the university solidified a sense of relationship across the globe. Cameroon struggles with poverty and a weak infrastructure; I understand this. But spending time with Cameroonians made such realities evaporate. We are all connected and not so far apart. For me, twenty years after first visiting Cameroon, I feel a growing sense of home. What had once felt like an exotic place, too foreign to connect with, had blossomed into a real place, filled with warm, generous, and friendly people.

For additional information on the University of Buea, see http://ubuea.net/. For more information about Allyson and her research please see her website www.allysonjule.com.