Molehill or Mountain? What We Know and Don’t Know About Sex Bias in Language

  • Nancy M. Henley


Language is at the core of human interaction, and it is at the core of our beings, our sense of self. An attack on our language is in a very real sense an attack on ourselves; as we know, wars large and small have been fought over language. Small wonder then that people are upset about the issue of sex bias in language. We are upset as speakers of the language because we identify with it: an attack on our language as unfair says that we are ourselves unfair. And we are upset as referents of the language (particularly women and girls) because in referring to us the language often seems to be attacking us. Why do I say the language, and not its speakers, are attacking us? Because well-meaning, nonsexist speakers may, simply by conventional usage, unwittingly use the language as conscious misogynists do: to trivialize, ignore, and demean females. Thus the problem is located in the common language, not solely or necessarily in the intents of its speakers.


Acquire Immune Deficiency Syndrome Applied Social Psychology Male Bias Sexist Thought Homosexual Woman 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1989

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  • Nancy M. Henley

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