Gender and identity

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gender and identityGender and identity activities provide you with the opportunity to consider how language affects our perceptions of gender. This lesson is centred around the theme Identities from the IB Language B curriculum which provides students with an opportunity to discover their interests, values, belief and culture. In these activities, we practice our listening and reading skills by learning about the idea of gender not being the same in some cultures.

Exercise 1Exercise 2Exercise 3Word ListExtension
Sexism is rife in language. A woman may be described as “bossy”, while a man is more likely to be “assertive”. The Economist’s language expert Lane Greene explores the gender stereotypes used in everyday speech.

Click here to reveal the answer and transcript.

Women and men face double standards. No, I don’t mean just the gender pay gap, I’m also talking about the different words we use to describe men and women with the same characteristics. While he is described as charismatic, she’s often described as bubbly or vivacious. You wouldn’t describe him as an airhead, he’s just simple. She’s an airhead. She’s bossy. He’s assertive. Women are far more likely than men to be described as gossiping. If you don’t believe me, after this film, try a Google images search for gossip.

Unlike French, German, Spanish, Polish, practically any other European language, English doesn’t have gender inherent in most of its words. But some of those words become gendered anyway when choosing different words to describe men and women. Feisty is a classic example. It’s rare to hear a man described as feisty. Sure, you could hear about a feisty boxer but it’s a lot more likely to describe a flyweight than a heavyweight. That’s why some women hear feisty as applying a kind of figurative or literal smallness in them and hence a note of condescension.

Academics from the University of Illinois and the University of California analyzed over 100,000 works of fiction written between 1800 and 2010. They identified words connecting to male or female characters and the actions they performed. The study showed that the word house used to be a strongly male term in the 1800s. House was associated with the landed gentry in Victorian era. But as the 20th century wore on, house became a slightly more female term associated with domesticity.

The writer Ben Blatt found that the verbs most associated with the pronoun she in classic fiction are: shivered, wept, murmured, screamed, and married. The most commonly associated with he are: muttered, grinned, shouted, chuckled, and killed. An algorithm used by those academics who studied house tries to determine a character’s gender based only on the language used in descriptions and dialogue. These predictions were right 75% of the time for books written around 1800 but that falls to just about 65% of the time in books written around 2000. In other words, the vocabulary used to describe women and men is becoming more blurred. So the gender stereotypes like feisty are less common than they used to be.

Nearly all words have different shades of meaning. While the speaker intends the positive one, the hearer often hears the negative. And that’s a good reason to avoid compliments that convey a note of surprise. Lane, you are so articulate. Really? Scouring your mind for a vocative language isn’t easy but working hard to be original and to avoid giving unwanted offence can only be a good thing.

Watch a news programme which explores the idea of bias and sexismin language and how that might offend others and even limit thinking.

Click here to view transcript and answers

A: HI, good to see you.
B: I have got to say lecturing us about sexism while you are sitting right now Manhattan.
A: Manhattan, we need to rename the’ city then.
B: Yeah
A: The big apple, the big apple would be less offensive. I would be sitting in the apple not Manhattan.
B: Why should the post office deliver mail.
A: It’s M-A-I-L. That’s OK. If it’s M-A-L-E. That’s the problem.
B: It’s not spelling its gender-inclusive. Male is offensive. We just learned that.
A: I don’t think they are including that but they are saying that society has changed and time are changing and we don’t want to be offensive in our language. And they are trying and they are tried and they are tried to be nonsexist and non-biased. And that means trying to take the word man out. Instead of man-made, it would be synthetic. Instead of mailman, it would be mail carrier, There are many ways to go around it instead of humanity you say …
B: Mailman has mail in it?
A: M-A-I-L
B: Can you change a vowel but it sounds the same has that dreaded word that sends people shrieking for safe space male.
A: Think are saying man. Man is the word that they are trying to avoid. They are saying that the word man is associated with adult men as opposed to just humanity or humans. So, they are trying to avoid the word man so if we could eliminate that word, then things would be much better and people would be less offended.
B: What if you lived in Manchester, Vermont.
A: They might have to change the name od the city if people agree with Purdue University, and Purdue University found that things need to be updated and they updated their writing guide to take out these words that apparently are offending certain groups of people.
B: So, OK. Just to make sure I understand the rule. If something offends somebody, even if you have never met person, personally.
A: Right.
B: You have to change it, so doesn’t that mean that a small group of supper unhappy people get to control what the rest of us say and think?
A: Perhaps they are ahead of their time. Maybe this is something that is offending a small group but the group is going to get larger and times are changing and our language is dynamic. Webster keeps adding new words in the dictionary so our language needs to change.

1. mailman, mankind, because they are sexist and biased (according to some)
2. Because Manhattan has the word “man” in it
3. gender-inclusive
4. a synthetic b people c mail carrier
5. sarcastic

Read the text about the change to the meaning of ‘they’ in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Adapted from Merriam-Webster dictionary word of the year 2019 is ‘they’ by Sabrina Barr.

Here are the words and phrases covered in this lesson about gender and identity:

  • academics
  • commentary
  • compliments
  • definition
  • double standards
  • gender-inclusive
  • non-biased
  • non-binary
  • offensive
  • pronoun
  • sexism
  1. Make a leaflet that makes students aware of the gender bias associated with a language. You should including promoting a scheduled debate addressing this matter at your school next week.
  2. Write a speech about if you believe women should play an equal role as men in a country’s police or military force. Mention your views regarding if women are suitable for these kinds of roles in our society.
  3. In most societies, the role of the mother and father differs. What are the causes of these differences? What will be the parental roles in the future? Write an essay expressing your views.
  4. Men are often placed in the most high-level positions in the workplace. Some people say that governments should encourage a certain percentage of these jobs to be reserved for women. Do you agree or disagree? Write a blog post expressing your opinions.
We add activities and exercises regularly on various themes, so why not bookmark our site, so you can come back to practice anywhere or at any time of the day.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to discover their interests, values, belief and culture.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to consider how events which take place impact an individual's life.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the sciences, technology and creativity.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the way in which groups of people organise themselves through common systems or interests.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to look at the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals and communities in the modern world.

Here you will find exercise to practice for the different sections of IB English B examination for either the Standard (SL) or Higher Level (HL) papers.
Learning English requires not just a good vocabulary, but a strong foundation of English grammar to communicate effectively.

Word puzzles require not just a good vocabulary and a knack for spelling, but the ability to think logically and strategically.
Levels Links:
 This free material is for students at an advanced level of English. This will probably be suitable for students in their fifth or sixth year of English studies. We add exercises on grammar and vocabulary as well as whole text activities on a regular basis. In addition, we provide test practice activity for students who are preparing for the C1 Advanced which is part of the Cambridge Assessment English Main Suite as well as the English Language B for the IB Diploma. The material will also support students studying for the Cambridge Advanced courses.

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