Language is one of, and probably, the most important agents of any culture. A fundamental pillar of any culture is patriarchy - at least since the agrarian revolution, 12K years ago. In other words, gender discrimination is deeply engraved on all cultural institutions, language included.

In comparison to other social interactions, linguistic objects have a singularity that turn them into a very particular and powerful resource used to propagate gender discrimination - They are not considered as wrong. Gender biased language is still perceived as neutral and as normative [1]. A speaker can discriminate without having an intention or even an awareness that this linguistic behavior has discriminatory results. Furthermore, an aware speaker often avoid a gender neutral language as it so s/he could be better understood.

To better grasp how apparently neutral language objects discriminate, let's observe some linguistic patterns that carries gender discrimination. Languages and cultures differ substantively in their gender-discrimination. Hence, we'll focus on a common denominateur.

All languages are structured by the unwritten, yet consensual norm according to which the 'standard' human being is male. This construct was accepted as a natural law throughout human history and was thus reinforced through[2].

It all starts at the end...

Linguistic objects describing females are grammatically more complex than those referring to males. Even more so in languages with grammatical gender (ex: French, German, Hebrew). A common usage is adding suffix to the corresponding masculine terms. Professor/Professoressa (teacher, Italian), arrivé/arrivée (arrived, French), katib/katibah (writer in Arab). This applied also to the "genderless" language like English, hero/heroine, actor/actress.

The female name is often derived from male name. This is created by adding the suffix as -E, -ie, -ine form, for example, Louise and Stephanie were respectively derived from male Louis and Stephen. Even the name 'female' is derived from male. On the contrary, male name based on the name of the female name is rare.

What's the problem:

Communicating through categories is essential to any language. They allow us to create mental representations in which perceptibly distinct entities are treated as alike. Categories help us to organize our experience of the world. The category “apple” permits one to identify a variety of different apples as edible. We stay away from snakes even if only 7% of them are harmful.

Categories play also a key part of our cultural inheritance, which is to say, they exhibit learned, socially transmitted variation that cannot be explained by genetic or environmental [3]. We are not born with a fixed set of categories (no one is born knowing that whales are mammals, or that girls wear pink). Woman and men are merely two additional categories. As such they may apply arbitrary labels that simplify communication. Cats can refer to tigers and ice-cream to sorbet, though not the other way around. Declaring men as the default type considered as a random choice, and thus, a mere unoffensive label. Yet, this random-natural argument is misleading and wrong.

Our language doesn't consider male to be arbitrary choice nor it considers female to differ from male by form only (genital organs), but by its essence. As showed by Simone De Beauvoir man is regarded as "both the positive and the neutral, foreshadowing the notion that the typical contrast between opposites… is not symmetric." Rather, the contrast between oppositions is often asymmetric meaning "the positive, or unmarked, term can be neutralized in meaning to denote the scale as a whole rather than just the positive end; but the negative, or marked, term can denote just the negative end. All members of a category do not have equal status in the mind of the human perceiver; some members are instead perceived as more equal–or more prototypical–than other members… and the female is taken to be a variation of that prototype, a less representative example of the humans[4].

Establishing men as the default completely excludes women, even if one has no intention to. Men are established as the norm against which everything is judged, and women are treated as deviant from this norm.

By deriving female nouns from male nouns, language places the man at the center and suggests that the woman is his orbit. This embedded male bias in our psyche so deeply that even our collective identity is understood as masculine – we use ‘man’ to describe our species and ‘mankind’ as a way to unify us.

This mechanism of suffix is applied only to women. Hence, it reproduces the convention that the prototypical human is a male. When, for example, one uses the generic term to apply to people, it is assumed to be male unless otherwise[2].

By deriving female nouns from male nouns, language places the man at the center and suggests that the woman is his orbit. This embedded male bias in our psyche so deeply that even our collective identity is understood as masculine – we use ‘man’ to describe our species and ‘mankind’ as a way to unify us.

Since the default male in language is perceived to express as an essential part of reality, it shapes and is reflected by other parts of the language. Lets examine two cases, that again appear in most languages, if not all,


Taser, Xerox, Popsicle, Kleenex, Escalator, Thermos, Dumpster, Frisbee are all labels that became generics, the name of their group. This happens quite often in pharmacuticals. Yet, these labels remain symmetrical, in that they only differ from other by their name only. I can xerox (print) on my HP printer, I lick a home-made popscile and I google on, or as printers both Xerox and HP are evaluate not by their mark but the specific product quality. While we may still use as a default search engine, we would not assume that it has essential different than SwissCows or DuckDuckGo. The default male is an example of a broken symmetry.

Since women are a distinct category we assume it represents distinguished features because women are essentially different. Accordingly we project on women all different types of 'essential essence'. Consider gender sexuality for example. Many languages lack of terms referring to one sex. Due to gender stereotypes that want women to be pure and family oriented, there is no male counterpart in current language use for terms such as virgin, working mother, or career[5].

Spinster[6] for instance, is an offensive term for “a woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marriage,” but we don’t have a similar insult to describe an unmarried man. Unmarried men are called bachelors, a word that conjures images of hunky male celebrities and is often preceded by “most eligible.” Women who are perceived have sexual relations with a number of partners on a casual basis - have often been referred to as sluts, whores and[7]. Yet there is no equally disparaging term for men.

So much of the language describing women is rooted in shaming their sexuality or reinforcing the idea that a woman’s value is determined relative to men. These asymmetries in words like mistress and housewife aren’t just descriptors: they are labels that reflect an undercurrent of sexism in society.

Order has no improtacne

When people are arranged some random choice is a must. Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Bronze, Gold, Silver. There has to be a random first and a random last. Yet, if we constantly say, Gold, Silver, Bronze we apply a rule.

When both sexes are provided in a timely manner, the word order is always male preceding female, which cannot be inverted. It is not difficult to find out the principle of “male first female “ after careful observation of the nouns and pronouns in English. As people often say, the husband and wife, king and queen, men and women, he and she, Adam and Eve, brother and sister and so on. It is rare to invert those words order. One might be tempted to explain it by a random habit of speak. This argument, doesn't hold water. We don't use order in language in a random fashion.

Order isn't neutral, it dictates superiority, it attracts the attention, it prioritized the preferred choice. Consider the following: good and bad, rich and poor, day and night, life and death, it is not just a simple 
problem of before and after. We remember the first and forget the second, the winner takes it all. Placing men before embedded the men's superiority and describes women as an inferior and less favorable state. When someone is considered that way, they are logically 'entitled to be treated less favorably". It justifies thus discrimination against[8].

Language shapes thought,

Language imposes speakers to focus on particular concepts that are grammaticized within its structure, resulting in language-bound [9].. These are not mere grammatical differences but rather a mechanism through which language shapes thought, where a grammatical habit of speech leads to a habit of mind. This applies to any domain, not necessarily gender.

Empiric studies show that making distinctions between objects (e.g., different colors, genders, and time orderings), vehicle the presumption that these categories actually exist in the world and[10]. In one experiment in 2007, Russians could identify different shades of blue more quickly than English speakers because they have two words for the colour blue, unlike one in blue [11].

Language both reflects and creates the gender inequalities. So far we notes how linguistic objects create an propagate stereotypes and legitimize discrimination. Yet, language doesn't shape only our vision of the world, but the world itself, how we act.

Perception shapes reality

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. What is conceivable and what is not, what makes sense and what does not, depends on the rules of language, of grammar. The complex, intertwined relationship between a language and the form of life that goes with it means that problems arising from language cannot just be set aside–they infect our lives, steering confusion, frustration and[12].

There are countless studies on how gender biased language discriminates and perception invades our reality:

Professional - Children choice at schools is influenced by the way they are perceived by the system. Boys are still considered to be more talented than girls are in math, whereas girls are more talented than boys in language[13]. As children grow older and have more experiences in which stereotypes are discussed or endorsed by others, these stereotypes may become a more salient source informing children’s own[14].

Stigma may affect the behavior of those who are stigmatized. Those who are stereotyped often start to act in ways that their stigmatizes[15].

Images of scientists are persistently masculine, and notions of scientific excellence affects the evaluation and selection of women in science. Women needed 2.5 times the publications of their male
counterparts to mitigate the bias favoring males in the application[16].

Even if women overcame these obstacles, it effects their career. Despite high levels of achievement, women can suffer from an "imposter syndrome". Lacking confidence in their intellectual accomplishments and ability, and a sense of[17]. A strong CV can compensate for a weaker grant proposal, but only for[18]. Male and female experiment participants rated publications purportedly from male authors as higher in scientific[19].

Both women and men are significantly more likely to vote to hire a man applicant versus a woman applicant with the same academic record. Data from the Spanish National Institute of Statistics shows that men associate professors are 2.5 times more than women associate professors to be promoted to full professors[20].


Categories are way to simplify reality so we can focus on the message we communicate. They are reference to a distinctive objects that have one or more common property. Though categories mislead us to believe they are essential. that its members share some intrinsic category. The word 'sharks' is a category. A category associated with some properties, sharks attack. Some sharks attack, in given situations. Attack though isn't an essential description of them.

Gender isn't a simple reference to the our genital organs they also led us to believe that women are essentially different than male. Women from Venus, males from Mars. Essential characteristics are attached to women behavior in a way that risk their lives and lead to countless death. Stereotypes about gender affect how doctors treat illnesses and approach their patients. For example, a 2018 study found that doctors of ten view men with chronic pain as “brave” or “stoic,” but view women with chronic pain as “emotional” or Thus, doctors were more likely to treat women’s pain as a product of a mental health condition, rather than a physical[21].

These attitudes increase the risk of patients dying. For example, the idea that heart attacks mainly occur in males — and a lack of awareness about how they affect females — contributes to the higher rates of females dying from heart attacks[22].

The above examples are far from being unique. It has been shown that this “linguistic normativity effect” (e.g., “ Compared to men, women are . . .,” or “Compared to fathers, mothers are . . .”) implicitly favours the first mentioned group, which becomes the norm against which the other is[23].

When men are mentioned as the referent group of comparison in a typically male (leadership) context, status inequalities are perceived as more legitimate and the gender stereotypes of men as agentic and women as communal are more readily[24].

The default type shapes not only how other perceive us but also how we perceive ourselves. When people are considered as deviance they develop a feeling of being different from the typical member of their social group. They also feel less social belonging and identification with their social[25]. Those who feel part of the group find it easier to pave their way.

The default type - why?

The insidious consequence is that people perceive gender bias in language as normative and enact gender discrimination by simply following communication[25]. Yet, if we aim to tackle this problem it might be helpful to consider why we our communication is so bound by the rule 'men as norm'.

the default type provides some immediate advantages: it's no-brainer, socially attractive and simplifies our current communication.

We are so ingrained to think that the male is the prototypical representative that we all speak it. We only have a female prototype for roles which are very heavily stereotyped as female (like ‘secretary’ or ‘witch’). By contrast, the tendency to assume that a ‘generic’ X will be male doesn’t just apply to the most stereotypically male roles (like ‘shopkeeper’ or ‘construction worker’), it applies to any role that isn’t almost exclusively reserved for women.

Consider for example this joke: A man walks into a bar with a piece of asphalt under his arm and says “A beer please! And one for the road!”

This joke here does not depend on the sex of the client. The punchline would have been the same had it been "A woman walks...".

Yet, a joke is a condensed kind of message. It will fail if the recipient doesn’t ‘get it’ at first glance. A good joke has to shift our focus on the central point, and avoid distraction by incidental background details. As Cameroon says: "One way to accomplish that is to depict something that’s instantly recognizable because it matches our prototype for the relevant social setting (be that a workplace, a classroom or a stone-age hunt). It’s not that we can’t make sense of non-prototypical scenarios when we encounter them in real life, but we process information faster when it doesn’t conflict with our default expectations. So, messing with the prototype is something that tends to happen only when the point is to challenge conventional expectations[26].

To keep the joke ‘clean’, you have to avoid distracting people with unexpected background details, like a female placed without comment in the slot for a generic category-member. But the result is that women are either absent from jokes which aren’t directly about women, or else they only appear in very stereotypical roles where their presence is in line with our expectations.

This masculine norm applies to other form of speech. Less is always more. To well defend our ideas it always better to focus on the essence and avoid background information.

What next?

Jokes can be funny even if they use their male-norm, even if they are sexist. Default masculine is needed in so many forms of communications and even feminists use it. But from a feminist perspective it’s important to try to shift them.

This discriminative language exists not because some left-wing, liberal feminists complain about them. Because they are real problems, linguistic lacunae, illogical and often meaningless and confusing expressions. Like the sun, they will be there, even if we close our eyes.

A substantive and lasting equality would only be possible when new ways of speaking become normalized and treated as unremarkable. When we stop needing extra time to process a sentence that refers to an engineer or a manager as 'she'. When we don’t think ‘hey, a woman!’ if it’s a female voice that addresses us from the flight-deck. When the minor characters in stories and jokes—generic bar clients, stone-age people or football supporters - can be equally female or male because nobody pays attention to it. When no ones is avoided, eliminated of pushed to the background. When a female is not just a ‘no-man’, i.e. a no-person.

If our language is systematically flawed and/or rests on an understructure of invalid rules then we are misled and deceived at a fundamental perceptual level. The rules by which we make meaning, ones intrinsically associated with language, had to be invented and[27].

Change, for anyone, comes when we see how hard things are now and realise they won’t change on their own. We don't think of our task as crowbarring a change people don’t want; we try to look for ways to ignite their wish to feel better than this language currently allows.