Language and Gender

How society changes language

Language plays an important role in our lives. It’s not just about communicating and interacting, but also about sending indirect messages through our chosen words. This can have challenging consequences in society regarding individual attitudes and lifestyles. In recent years there have been linguistic changes intended to make our language more inclusive. But why now?

The classic role allocation

Up to the 20th century there was a clear gender distinction in life. It was common that men provide for their families, go to work and manage the finances. Meanwhile the women stay at home to take care of the home and children. Back then, people didn’t think about changing common gendered expressions in the language they used. The words used just reflected the structure of society at the time. Terms like ‘manpower’ were clearly adequate to describe the workforce in that times, which consisted of male workers. But should we still stick to those expressions nowadays?

Language develops with culture

In modern society we’re more aware of these antiquated prejudices in general. Over the last century, awareness for equal rights of women and minorities has risen. Since our way of expression and communication reflects our mindsets and attitudes, it changes as our habits do. Why should we hold on to terms that exclude minorities, when we aim to include them in our society and fight for their equal rights? It wouldn’t make any sense to hold on to them because we don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings by using exclusive language. If we care about other people, we also have to choose our words wisely.

Cis men are still privileged

Regardless, there are still many situations where cis men are regarded as superior. The question is: does language change our society or does society change our language? We could say they influence each other. If people are not willing to adapt their attitudes towards modern movements, their language won’t either. But if we don’t become aware of the effect our way of speaking has on our habits, we won’t rethink how we’re living.

Make a change

We can see in political debates, that there are still problems and challenges in our efforts to be more inclusive. Raising awareness towards minorities and all the terms that could negatively affect others, seems very demanding and often difficult to realize. However, isn’t it better to try our hardest rather than to simply give up? Obviously, change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we keep trying we can improve our world one word at a time – for all of us.

Author: Leonie Kohl Xiques

Question time: Can coffee make you gay?

“I have a male colleague who won’t go into cafés. According to him, cafés are for women, bars are for men. When his wife orders coffee, he waits outside,” a twitter user wrote a few months ago. This man is married to a woman, I wondered, but attends a men-only bar? Fair enough. Rebloggers on social media made similar remarks. And the war in the comments began.

Hipsters, chains and drinks

Talking about coffee: Starbucks has come to Augsburg;  you might have noticed from ever-fuller trash cans and the growing number of people in Uggs and NorthFace jackets. But I am no better than these people: despite the weird sizes and baristas who ask your name but can’t get it right, despite the environmental impact and the loss of family-owned, traditional cafés, I go to Starbucks regularly. They can call me Nicolas, Niccollò and Nicholas – all three in German stores, by the way – and still I love Starbucks.  Especially in fall when you can order Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSL, for fans). I had one – okay, I had twenty. And that’s where the trouble began.

Male, female or PSL drinker?

See, some people just can’t let you enjoy your coffee. A man drinking Pumpkin Spice Lattes? What’s next? A stay-at-home dad? A female chancellor? “You’re such a basic white girl, Nik,” a friend of mine said. Being two of these three things, I couldn’t exactly feel offended. “Takes one to recognize one,” I replied. The sentence “Only women and gays drink that stuff” from a fellow student didn’t make me turn suicidal either – that’s just the kind of locker room joke that some politicians base their entire campaigns on.

Can we relax for a second?

However, the statements had me thinking. What if I am the only straight man who enjoys Starbucks coffee? Gendering can be a weird thing if you leave aside social conventions. Yeah, it does make sense to create clothing that caters to the needs of one biological sex – bras, for instance. A man can wear a bra if he wants to. He might just not need it as much, anatomically speaking. The same goes for some social conventions that are based on genders. Opening a door for a woman? Great stuff. Ten out of ten would do it again. But coffee? Come on.

There are real problems, you know.

Most of us would claim to live in a modern world – both parents have jobs, we look down on Trump voters’ supposed sexism and we all have that convenient gay friend we keep referring to for credibility. But if we really are all that modern and open-minded, why don’t we look at gender in the areas where it really is an issue? What if we fixed the pay gap or protected women from sexual harassment for a start? What if we took women’s opinions seriously in business meetings or car garages? What if we looked at people, instead of genders, and stopped making a fuss about century-olds role images? But no, we gender coffee, as if there weren’t any real problems to deal with. What we drink should really be everyone’s own cup of tea, pun intended.

How far have we come?

I went back to Starbucks (for research purposes, of course) and asked a barista if men ordered PSLs. “In fact, men order this drink more than women,” the barista told me. I asked if they made sure to keep their voices down, to protect their masculinity. “Why, no? Tastes are different. We should be above that,” was her answer. “Anyway, here’s your drink.” She handed me my PSL with a sly wink, as if she was supplying me with a month’s worth of heroin. I left the store in a weird mood. What if I had made up a problem where there was none? I looked down at my cup, which looked phallic, rather than feminine, to see if they had got my name right that day. The barista had written “Nicole”. With a heart above the ‘i’.

Author: Niklas Schmidt

Pictures: Martina Sonn