In my last post, I reacted to negative feedback about the language I used which I perceived as unwarranted and out of place. I belatedly realized that a more productive post than my personal rant would have been one comparing the pros and cons of gendered language – but in the lengthy discussion that followed my post last week, I learned so much about others’ views on the subject.
I’ve compiled a few of the arguments for both sides. There’s a lot of thought-provoking reasoning out there, and some of the material is conflicting. What arguments do you find flawed? What points do you find particularly compelling? Would you add positive or negative arguments to either side?
Positives teaching with gender-neutral language:
- The most inclusive language is gender-neutral.
- Gender-neutral language is strongly associated with being ambidancetrous – a skill which is widely acknowledged to make us better dancers.
- Gender-neutral language undermines societal expectations, which can encourage people to dance outside their “gender-normal” role.
Negatives to teaching with gender-neutral language:
- As humans, we process the language we recognize more quickly than language we don’t recognize. Using gender-neutral language can cause us to struggle to absorb information, which means students might be slower to learn material.
- When someone specifically avoids gender-specific language, it can create a subtle tension around gendered words. In turn, listener often compare this to speech they perceive as “normal” and recognize a taboo surrounding gender. In essence, sometimes people react more to whether speech sounds normal than to what is actually being said. (There’s a lot more explanation to this argument, and I’m not sure I summarized it adequately; please let me know if you’d like to hear the full reasoning.)
- It can be hard to use 100% gender-neutral language as a teacher; this focus can distract teachers from the material, which reduces the quality of the class.
- Using gender-neutral language does not necessarily encourage equality. It can even reinforce or highlight sexism.
Positives teaching with gender-specific language:
- All people are different (tall, short, lanky, stocky, male, female), and so we all dance differently. Acknowledging whether someone is male or female allows you to teach to their gender, which can help create better dancers.
- It often more effective to directly encourage men and women to dance outside their “gender-normal” role. The phrase “Everyone should learn both roles” is non-committal and often ineffective.
- Since it sounds “normal,” gender-specific language is easily absorbed by most students; this allows for easy teaching and learning.
Negatives to teaching with gender-specific language:
- It is easy to encourage or display sexism using gender-specific language.
- Gender-specific language excludes those in the community who find gender equality very important. It makes them uncomfortable and often discourages them from participating in classes or even attending community events.
- When students and community members are offended by the gender-specific language being used, it can affect the morale of a class, an event, and the community. This also interrupts learning in class, as students tend to talk more about the language being used than the material being taught.
- It’s easy to accidentally use analogies which are influenced by sexism, which is offensive and (surprise!) encourages sexism.
- Gender-specific language can be perceived as lazy or dismissive. And sometimes, it is lazy and dismissive – which is a reflection on you as a teacher, organizer, or community member.
We’re more likely to encourage equality through our actions than our language; for the curious, this discussion also raised some great tips on encouraging gender equality regardless of the language you use in class and in the community.
- Directly encourage students to dance outside the role they are most comfortable with. Use your words!
- If you are ambidancetrous, show it! Lead the community through your own shining example as a lead or follow, regardless of your gender.
- Teach classes outside your “gender-normal” role. Bonus points if both teachers switch! Make sure that leads and follows address their questions to the appropriate role, not the dancer with whose gender they most comfortably identify.
- Include gender-neutral material in your classes, such as solo dancing. Alternatively, use exercises which encourage students to pair up with the person closest to them, rather than someone who “fits” the lead / follow role.
- Actively promote gender-equality in the community: host ambidancetrous workshops. Create a gender-bender competition. Learn from and teach classes which encourage dancing outside a gender-normal role. Do what you can!