Prompted by International Women’s Day (March 8), I decided to see if, where and how sexist language is used on Te Ara.
After a brief search I found these image titles: woman road marker, Jane Winstone with another woman pilot, Alice Baston, a pioneering woman accountant, a woman cyclist in knickerbockers, a woman farmer and a woman hunter.
The Victoria University Non-Sexist Language Guidelines say ‘Job titles that cannot be given a suffix are often prefixed with sex indicators. We hear of a “woman painter”, a “woman lawyer”, a “lady doctor”. There is no apparent reason for this — as with the practice of using suffixes, it implies maleness is the norm, and that women are “special cases”. As the titles come from the verb, that is, a painter is one who paints, there is no need for further indicators.’
But in each of the examples above the women they described were either the first in their field, or represented a small number of women in engaged in a particular occupation. They were special cases. Did that make it OK?
My question was answered when I found Anne Barry, firefighter.
Anne Barry became the first woman professional firefighter in Australasia in 1981, but she had to struggle long and hard to achieve this goal. Her initial application was declined, so she took her case to the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Human Rights Commission and to members of Parliament before being accepted for the recruitment course. She passed with flying colours and went on to a distinguished career in the Fire Service for more than 20 years.
Anne Barry was a special case too. She was the first in her field. But she wasn’t described as a “Woman firefighter” or worse, a “Woman fireman”. No, she was Anne Barry, firefighter.
Heartened by the description, I wondered if we could rewrite the other image titles? Could they be ‘Road marker’, ‘Jane Winstone with another pilot’, ‘A cyclist in knickerbockers’, ‘Jill Bluett, dairy farmer’ and ‘Keen hunter’? And what about Alice Baston – was she a pioneering accountant or was it being a woman accountant that made her a pioneer? What do you think?
I’m going to cross-reference the glossary of non-inclusive terms with Te Ara next. I know that sometimes the terms will have been used for good reason, but I’ve already discovered enough maiden speeches, man-powered and man-made terms used as descriptors, that I know it is time for change.