Confronting gendered language

Professor Politics and Director of the Teaching and Learning Initiative, Elizabeth Markovits standing outside one of Mount Holyoke’s iconic Gothic-style buildings.

By Keely Savoie

After Berkeley, California, changed its municipal code to explicitly remove gendered terms from its municipal documents — replacing, for example, “manhole” with “maintenance hole” — Professor of Politics Elizabeth K. Markovits spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the impact of gendered language. 

Markovits leads efforts at Mount Holyoke College to implement gender-inclusive language. She endorses Berkeley’s policy, noting that even innocuous-sounding words such as “fireman” and “manpower” are exclusionary because of the rigid gender roles conjured in their use.

“Markovits said that gendered language helps create a world where women are seen as naturally suited … to the task of parenting, and less fit for physically demanding jobs or political leadership,” wrote columnist Gracie Bonds Staples. “This leads to the division of all sorts of things from housework and childcare to income inequality and glass ceilings. So tackling this where we can — in our local political life and everyday speech — is one tiny piece of moving us closer to equality.”

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