by Suzanne Bearne
Originally published: May 5, 2016
People can be mocked for using gender-neutral terms, but more of us than ever are breaking male-female stereotypes at work.
Until the early 60s, it was common for newspapers to publish separate job listings for men and women. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since then, with gender-neutral words replacing masculine and feminine job titles to cut out gender discrimination and appeal to both sexes. But why does the language we use to describe a job role matter?
According to Judith Baxter, emeritus professor of applied linguistics at Aston University, sexist language perpetuates gender-biased attitudes by defining what we see as normal for both men and women.
“The language we use not only reflects our culture but also constructs it,” she explains. “It sets up expectations about how people are supposed to be. Job descriptions can often slip through the net, less with official titles, and more with implied sexism.” As recently as 2014, for example, Pizza Hut found itself in hot water after posting an advert on the Gumtree website calling for “decent, good-looking girls” to work in one of its restaurants.