What happens when you swap genders in common sayings?
I’ve been paying particular attention to the language I use recently for various reasons, but one of the things on my mind is the way we use gender in everyday speech. D keeps getting him/her, she/he etc. round the wrong way, and with the prolific gender stereotyping that goes on in some children’s TV shows, I’m careful to use terms such as ‘firefighters’ or ‘police officers’ in conversation with her rather then fireman or policeman.
Already, at 2.5 years old, she saw a Spiderman air freshener in Halfords the other day and told me that one was for boys. *heart shatter* I quickly put her right and professed my love of Spidey, but it highlighted to me how powerful and prevalent gender stereotyping really is, and how I need to shout about it more for her sake.
My husband says people get too caught up with language and I should just not let it bother me, but that is easy to do when you are not part of the group being discriminated against. I almost feel like deleting the word ‘discriminated’ for fear of being patronised for being oversensitive, but really, it is a thing, and it’s happening daily to women and all kinds of minority groups. Just open your eyes to it without judgement and you’ll see.
Out of curiosity, I did a quick search for common sayings / idioms that reference specific genders, and have listed them below, but with the genders swapped round. See how it makes you feel when you read them. Does something feel a bit off?
- Woman up
- One woman band
- Boldly go where no woman has gone before
- A man’s place is in the home
- Are you a woman or a mouse?
- God created woman in his image
- Men’s lady
- Woman & husband
- A woman’s woman
- Woman cave
- A woman’s home is her castle
- Be a woman
- Every woman for herself
- Family woman
- Right-hand woman
- Make an honest man of him
- Hell has no fury like a man scorned
- Man of the night
- You can’t keep a good woman down
Surely in an equal society, it shouldn’t matter which gender is mentioned, but somehow…it does…
I think this highlights how deeply ingrained some gender stereotyping is, to the extent that we don’t even notice it in a lot of the things we say.
It’s important, for the sake of our daughters and our sons, to call ourselves out on these throwaway lines, whether they come from our own mouths or those of others. We need to teach all children that strength, pride, family values, tenderness, success…everything, is for all of them, and there needn’t be a gender divide.