Gender-sensitive language and male gender domination

Gender-sensitive language and male gender domination

When we talk about the role of women in today’s society, what we need to have in mind is that just a few decades ago, women had no right to vote nor they had the opportunity to get a higher education, instead just the basic one. While men worked in the field of science, women were invisible, gender was not a topic to discuss. Even today, there are some countries in the world where the fight for a woman’s right to vote and get a higher education is still on.

Having that in mind, we shouldn’t be surprised with the obvious domination of the male gender in many languages, even Serbian one. We shouldn’t be surprised, but we should be worried that generally speaking, almost nothing is being done in order to change this. In our everyday language, we use words which should be in neutral form, meaning that those words could refer to both male and female person, but is this really the situation?


Also, we should pay attention to the titles or various types of the profession when they refer to a female individual. Do they even exist and if yes, how often are they used? How important is the female gender in our language?

Where is the catch/challenge?

Back in the time when women didn’t have the opportunity to get a higher education, attend University nor earn a certain title, there was no possibility nor idea that a noun or a title exists in the female version, referring to a female individual. This is not only the case for the Serbo-Croatian language, or in this particular case, Serbian language. There are many languages in this world which do not distinguish genders and one of them is the English language too.


When it comes to, for example, acting profession, we use two different words to refer to a male and female person: actor and actress. Even though this profession distinguishes male and female gender, in most of the cases, you could hear a female person referring to herself as an actor. Most of them feel more comfortable when they talk about themselves in the male gender.

This situation is common in the Serbian language as well. A noun „author“, often provokes controversy. Referring to the female person, this noun should be „female author/authoress“, having in mind the origin of this word which is, in the Serbian language, „author“.

…But in Serbia, it’s not like that.

Most female authors do not want to refer to themselves in this way but insist on using the title „writer“. As an argument, these women say that feminine noun of the word author is sexist and sounds more like an irony, and besides, every woman feel better and more powerful if they have a masculine title next to their name.


This issue, today, is no more the question of feminism nor propaganda of feminism politics, which emphasizes the need for women visibility in languages, but there is even a need for this change to happen.

Example no. 1:

  1. Could you recommend me a good gynecologist?
  2. I know one good gynecologist who goes by the surname Marković.
  3. I know one good gynecologist, her name is Nađa Marković.

Example no. 2:

  1. Could you recommend me a good gynecologist, if you know one?
  2. I know one good gynecologist who goes by the surname Marković.

Example no. 3:

  1. I know one good otorhinolaryngologist who is working on VMA.
  2. I know one good otorhinolaryngologist who is working on VMA. My sister is a good friend of hers.
In the book „Feminist Philosophy of Language“, an example in the English language was presented:

Somebody left his sweater behind.

In this sentence, we have possessive pronoun „his“ which indicates that the person leaving the sweater behind is male. Linguists came up with the idea to replace „his“ with the possessive pronoun „their“, which has been accepted in the English language.

Today, this sentence is used in the following way:

Somebody left their sweater behind.

Formulated in this way, you could not assume the gender of the person leaving the sweater behind, so we could say that this sentence is in neutral form.

Where is the point?

The purpose of these examples is to emphasize on gender inequality in language, express the need for distinguishing feminine and masculine nouns and prove that we could still debate on the existence of the neutral gender in languages.

Gender inclusive phenomena exist everywhere, in everyday language, songs, and tv shows and reach even the dictionaries and paper works with the theme of languages. We could take, for example, a word „human“ or said in the plural, „people“. This word refers to both female and male individuals, which is a fact. But, in our language, the meaning of this word is not the same. Nouns „human“ and „man“ became synonyms.


Besides having these problems in the Serbian language, they are common in the English language too, with terms „humankind“ and „mankind“. If you think about the literal translation of the word „mankind“ it would be male species and this word is often used as a synonym for humankind.

And what is the conclusion?

The main conclusion is that people are ready to accept sixteen insulting nouns regarding the female individuals, but it is still very challenging to use titles and ranks with the female gender.

Fight for the gender equality in languages could, but also does not have to be directly seen as a feminist fight. It is important to understand and recognize the need for this type of change in languages and slowly start using it.

Milena Beran

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