A fair language to build a fairer world

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A fair language to build a fairer world


Categories: leadership, women


"Language is not a mere tool through which we express and communicate our thoughts. Language makes thought – when we speak we are thinking - and at the same time, we are representing and constructing our surrounding reality. (...) The biased use of language (...) influences our attitudes, behaviors and perceptions of the world..."

 

From the article “Non-sexist language and barriers to its use. A study in the university environment”, University of Sevilla (1)

 

When analyzing journalistic notes, conversations, books, advertisements and other symbolic products, we notice the lack of awareness of the undeniable fact that we are recording certain messages biased in our minds. We seem to find it hard to notice that apart from merely speaking or writing we are forging culture.

 

Therefore it seems appropriate to include an article about language as a fundamental tool in Project Management. We spend many hours of our day communicating. It is one of our most important tasks and merits a conscious effort to spot possible gender biases such as prejudices, stereotypes and mandates.

 

In Spanish, the masculine gender is inclusive compared to the feminine gender, which happens to be the exclusive one: "Los alumnos de esta clase" includes men and women, but "Las alumnas de esta clase" excludes the males. The masculine is the default, the generic principle.[i]

According to the Real Academia Española: "The explicit mention of the female is only justified when the opposition of the sexes is relevant in the context". It is the definition of a use of the language in which women are invisible.

Concerned about the undesirable effects of this generic masculine principle which invisibilizes women, linguistic policies have been implemented in the English-speaking world, which aim at focusing on the replacement of masculine terms by neutrals. For example, the noun “fireman” has been modified so that it includes both male and female candidates to the professions. Nowadays, the neutral noun “firefighter” is preferred. This is a clear and graphic example in which the old biased role expectation (for firefighters to be men) has been replaced for a fairer noun which includes both men and women.

We must bear in mind that language is not only an instrument for us to use consciously but the medium by which we build ourselves as desiring subjects. We either aspire to something or refrain from it according to the options that our language offers us.
In certain cases, such as job descriptions, the use of a neutral language has become a legal requirement.

In my case, I should mention that when I questioned the fact that my salary receipt indicates the male noun "Jefe" [ii] and not the female "Jefa", this -innocent?- issue was not considered important by most women. This lack of awareness of the invisibility of women in certain jobs is due to our unconscious use of the language.
My decision to make my electronic signature to indicate "Jefa" (the female noun) far from whimsical, or even politically correct, is a commitment to make women visible in leadership positions. (It must be noted that -after two years- I am still struggling to get the fair print “Jefa” on my salary receipt)

We all know that full equality can only be achieved through deep cultural changes. Nevertheless, the conscious effort of younger generations to intervene language with forms such as @ or "x" or "e" should be taken as the relentless call for attention concerning the unequal state of affairs. The asymmetry regarding the possibilities of men and women in the labour market comes as an urgent concern for us all.

New measures are being implemented in the developed countries to modify the status quo that has for centuries marginalized women from positions of power, or subjected them to unequal payment. All these modifications are emerging from numerous and global social and linguistics studies which take the issue of inequality in the workforce as of paramount importance.

Language builds reality and helps transform it.Quoting the philosopher Francis Steiner (2) "What is not named does not exist".

 

REFERENCE

  1. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/descarga/articulo/4731542.pdf

       2. Francis George Steiner (Paris, April 23, 1929) is a writer, philosopher, and critic and theoretician of literature and culture. He is one of the most important intellectuals of international influence since the mid-20th century


 

[i] Both sentences in English means the same: "The students of this class" but in Spanish nouns, articles and pronouns are marked for gender

[ii] “Jefe” / “Jefa” means both “Boss”

 

---Español

Un lenguaje justo para construir un mundo más justo
 

 “El lenguaje no es una mera herramienta mediante la cual expresamos y comunicamos nuestros pensamientos. El lenguaje hace pensamiento- se piensa cuando se habla-y al mismo tiempo, representa y construye realidad. (…) El uso sesgado del lenguaje (…) influye en las actitudes, el comportamiento y las percepciones de las personas…”

Del artículo “Lenguaje no sexista y barreras a su utilización. Un estudio en el ámbito universitario”, Universidad de Sevilla (1)

 

Al analizar notas periodísticas, conversaciones, libros, publicidades y otros productos simbólicos, notamos la falta de concientización de que estamos grabando ciertos mensajes sesgados en nuestras mentes. Pareciera que nos cuesta tomar conciencia de que estamos forjando cultura.

Por eso me parece apropiado incluir en nuestro blog un artículo respecto al lenguaje como una herramienta fundamental en la Dirección de Proyectos. Quienes nos dedicamos a esta profesión pasamos muchas horas de nuestro día comunicando. Es una de nuestras tareas más importantes y amerita un esfuerzo consciente para detectar los posibles sesgos de género tales como prejuicios, estereotipos y mandatos.

En el español el género masculino es el inclusivo o incluyente frente al femenino marcado, que pasa a ser el género exclusivo o excluyente: "Los alumnos de esta clase" incluye a hombres y mujeres, pero "Las alumnas de esta clase" excluye a los varones. El masculino es el default, el principio genérico.
Según la Real Academia Española: “La mención explícita del femenino solo se justifica cuando la oposición de sexos es relevante en el contexto”. Es la definición de un uso de la lengua donde las mujeres están invisibles.

Atentos a los efectos indeseados de este principio del masculino genérico, en el mundo angloparlante se han enfocado en el reemplazo de términos masculinos por neutros. Por ejemplo, fireman (bombero). En este caso hoy se usa preferentemente firefighter, que es neutro. En este ejemplo queda graficada la expectativa de rol que si bien antes quedaba limitada al varón hoy en día se abre (mediante el uso del neutro) tanto a varones como a mujeres. Hay que recordar que la lengua no sólo es instrumento que usamos sino que es el medio en el que nos construimos como sujetos deseantes. Aspiramos o no a algo según las opciones que nos proponga nuestra lengua.
En ciertos casos, tal como descripciones de trabajos, se volvió un requisito legal el uso de un lenguaje neutro.

Como ejemplo personal, al mencionar que mi propio recibo de sueldo indica “Jefe” y no “Jefa”, el tema no fue considerado importante por la mayoría de las mujeres. La decisión de que mi firma electrónica indique “Jefa” es un compromiso con visibilizar a las mujeres en puestos de liderazgo, aun cuando sigo en la lucha de que esto se refleje en la descripción de mi cargo.

Más allá de que para lograr la equidad sean necesarios cambios culturales profundos, el esfuerzo consciente de las generaciones más jóvenes de intervenir el lenguaje con formas como el @ o la “x” o la “e” debería tomarse como el llamado de atención constante que estos jóvenes hacen sobre la urgencia de intervenir en otras esferas.
Apuntan a modificar el statu quo que ha mantenido durante siglos una asimetría en los puestos de poder, evidenciada por el pago desigual, la falta de mujeres en puestos directivos, el lenguaje sexista en las oficinas, y otros hechos que son hoy en día objeto de numerosos estudios en todo el mundo.

El lenguaje construye la realidad y contribuye a transformarla.
Citando al filósofo Francis Steiner (2) “Lo que no se nombra no existe”.

 

REFERENCIAS

  1. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/descarga/articulo/4731542.pdf

       2. Francis George Steiner (París, 23 de abril de 1929) es un escritor, filósofo, y crítico y teórico de la literatura y de la cultura. Se trata de uno de los intelectuales de influencia internacional más relevantes desde mediados del siglo XX

Posted by Marcela Terzi on: January 06, 2019 05:08 PM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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Excellent article! Concise and graphic in its objective. Opens many possible lines of thought.Thank you for posting!

Thank you really much ELena !

I am glad Reimi you like this article. I will probably post another article about topics like this

I look forward for your next article Marcela.

Thank you for your strong, active language - that is fiery! But not inflammatory!

We are forging culture.

It is better than to be fighting fires.

Thank you Elaine. I appreciate very much your kind words.

Excellent article Marcela!!
Language is not innocent, we should keep this in mind.
Thank you for this great post

Thank you very much Fernanda! That's the point: we have to pay attention to our words

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