This all started because I was trying to figure out why inanimate objects have gender in Hindi and German, while I fervently argued with my mom on how to make sense of the gender of keys or a table on a rather long car ride. Those who have tried learning those kind of languages know that grammatical gender is one of the most vexing aspects of learning a new language.
So mom started explaining , in the Hindi language, nouns like a river are feminine whereas something like a mountain is masculine.
My immediate thought: HOW?
This is both baffling and somewhat astounding. What makes a mountain any more manly than a river. Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, that’s obvious’. A reason supporting this statement also popped up in your head, didn’t it? It it because it’s strong? Tall? Sturdy? Broad?
Now, explain why a female couldn’t share the same traits? Any luck yet?
So I start to wonder, what is gender? To the dictionary, it is simply defined by your reproductive organs. To some, it is defined by what pronouns they perfect. When exactly did our personality traits start to define our gender?
We always knew our whole idea of gender has been cluttered with stereotypes and misconceptions. Like princesses or cute things, you’re a girl. If you are broad-shouldered and like bulging muscles, you’re a boy! A man likes rainbows? Oh no! he’s too feminine. A girl with a short haircuts to those playing football, or weightlifting and boxing (shudder..) A tomboy.
We thought we knew the gender stereotypes we encounter ! Just until half and hour ago, I hadn’t realised it had seeped so deep in our culture , right unto the language we speak.
So I googled of course and found a study, where native German and Spanish speakers were asked to describe words which had opposite genders,with 3 English adjectives.
Across the board, object gender influenced the participants’ judgments. For example, the word “key” is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish. German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, jagged, metal, and useful. Spanish speakers, on the other hand, used words such as golden, intricate, little, lovely, and tiny when describing keys. The word “bridge” is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish. Sure enough, German speakers described bridges as beautiful, fragile, pretty, and slender, while Spanish speakers said they were big, dangerous, strong, sturdy, and towering.
So much for living in a society that is moving away from gender stereotypes, when the very language we communicate is unknowingly coding our brains even as I type. (oh wait this is English , Good! 🙂
Aren’t we all humans? We’re not humen and huwomen, we’re all a single race.
Idea of the day!
The labels ‘he’ or ‘she’ come with strings and expectations, so why not address yourself by ‘it’ or ‘them’ instead? It’s a generic term, referring to neither a man or a woman. That gives you the entire range of personality traits to choose from, and nothing is too ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’.
Have you ever done something that people generally correlate with the other gender? Have you ever complained about a rowdy boy, but then you were told ‘boys do that’? Are you a girl who punched someone in class and then was told off not because it was wrong to hurt but because ‘that’s not how girls should behave’?
If you believe this is true, address yourself with a neutral pronoun for an hour. Because, aren’t we all a little mixed up?
(It would also make learning languages so much easier, but I digress!)
ps- do leave your thoughts in a comment for me!
Sources Cited:Boroditsky, L., Schmidt, L., & Phillips, W. (2003). Sex, Syntax, and Semantics. In Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and cognition, ed. D. Gentner & S. Goldin-Meadow, pp. 61- 80. Cambridge University Press.