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Language and Gender Inclusivity

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Language and Gender Inclusivity

This resource was created as part of the Language and Inclusivity project, based in the School of Modern Languages. It is supported by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion fund

About this resource

We promote better understanding of social issues such as, in this instance, gender. We help staff and students to start conversations on these crucial and complex topics. We believe that language matters for equality, diversity and inclusion because:

  • some notions are key to understanding the social dynamics at play
  • some words convey biases – for example, a sexist, racist, ableist bias
  • our university campuses are multilingual environments

This resource will help embed EDI across the University, through workshops and training modules. It will be useful to teachers and educators in the University and beyond. It will help introduce the topic of gender in class through the lens of language.

Language exists within a social context

Language does not exist in a vacuum. For each of the words in this resource, we need to consider them as part of a social context. Who you are, who you are talking to, in what time and what space: it all matters.

Take these different words and situations:

  1. Before leaving for the evening, Jane says to her partner: ‘I’m going out with the girls. See you later!’
  2. Jack and Joe, two geography lecturers, are chatting and joking about ‘the girls’ in their classes.

In situation 1, you might see ‘girls’ as friendly and affectionate. In situation 2, it might be infantilising and demeaning, especially from a man in a position of authority.

  1. James and his partner describe themselves as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.
  2. Jill had a hard time throughout school, where she was bullied and called ‘queer’.

In situation 1, gay men use ‘queer’ to describe their own identity. In situation 2, it is a homophobic slur against a lesbian girl.

Reclaiming words

The example of ‘queer’ is typical of a linguistic phenomenon called reclaiming words. It concerns words used as slurs against a marginalised community, like this homophobic slur, or the racist n-word.

Members of that community sometimes approp