Change Language
Flipping The Script On Gendered Language

Flipping The Script On Gendered Language

Gendered language is all around us. It’s why we might say ‘mankind’ instead of ‘humankind’ or why we assume a nurse is a she, not a he. 

It may seem harmless at first glance, but the truth is that gendered language can perpetuate negative gender stereotypes, enforce gender inequality, and even devalue the work of women.

One way to tackle this unconscious gender bias? Switching to gender-inclusive language.

Changing these ingrained habits can be challenging, but we can all play a role in flipping the script. The key is to acknowledge the existence of gendered language and then take practical steps to change it.

Ready to work towards a fairer world? It starts with being intentional about the language we do and don’t use. 

What is gendered language?

Gendered language is rooted in assumptions about what is inherently masculine or feminine. Not only does it assign gendered qualities to words or phrases, but it makes judgements about value and worth based on gender alone. 

This language can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about gender roles and abilities, like the belief that men are natural leaders while women are emotional and natural caregivers.

It can be subtle or overt. But either way, it has the power to create and perpetuate gendered power imbalances between men and women.

The impact of gendered language

The impact of gendered language is significant and far-reaching. It can influence attitudes toward women and men and has even been shown to negatively affect women’s economic opportunities.

Studies have shown that gendered language can negatively impact the economic opportunities open to women, linking gendered languages with lower female labour force participation and more regressive gender norms.

Gendered language can also be patronising or dismissive towards women. These stereotypes can have a real impact on women’s well-being and can lead to women being undervalued and overlooked, especially at work.

How gendered language shows up in the real world

Gendered language can have a powerful impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. 

Even seemingly innocent words and phrases can shape our understanding of gender roles and abilities, and can often create the idea that men (or he/him) is the default, while women (or she/her) are secondary. 

Here are some examples of gendered language and how they contribute to harmful stereotypes and biases:

  • Phrases like “man up,” “be a man,” or “throw like a girl” perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes that label women as ‘weak’ and men as ‘strong’.
  • Assertive women are labelled as “bossy”, while the same quality in men is considered “commanding” or the sign of a strong, capable leader.
  • Using masculine-first language that prioritises the word “man” (such as “man-made,” “mankind,” and “manpower”), despite there being perfectly acceptable gender-neutral alternatives (such as “artificial”, “humankind,” and “workforce”).
  • Gendering professions, for example “male nurse” or “female doctor”, contribute to the idea of what roles are designed for men or women. 

Ways to flip the script on gendered language

First up, it’s important to remember that dismantling gendered language isn’t about points scoring or calling out others’ behaviour. Instead, it’s about recognising the role language plays in gender stereotypes and being open to embracing gender-neutral ways of communicating. 

Sparking meaningful change is about seeing big opportunities to reframe how we speak about men and women. It starts with tweaking the language we use, but needs to be followed up with other actions, too.

To point you in the right direction, The United Nations has some guidelines for using inclusive language, such as only using gender when it’s relevant, for example, if data concerns women specifically. 

It can be tricky, but try to switch to gender-neutral terms such as:

  • Use chairperson instead of chairman
  • Instead of spokesman use spokesperson
  • Try using team or everyone instead of guys
  • Instead of “mankind,” use humankind  or humanity


Gendered language even affects the way we raise the next generation, and small changes such as switching from “maternity leave” to “parental leave” can make a big impact in redistributing the shared responsibility of raising children. 

Approaching gendered language with openness and curiosity can help us understand how language shapes our attitudes towards gender. 

It’s not about getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty of labels, but instead acknowledging that language is one of many factors that can perpetuate gender inequality.

Finding quick and easy ways to flip the script on gendered language is a powerful and practical step we can all take to promote gender equality.

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