Often it turns out that the labels that started off as accurate, legal at the time, came to be used as insults. So when children were taught a label, it came to also imply lower status.
Some labels at first were neutral, evolved into being used with humor, used in private gossip and then used with cruel intent. A key challenge is the u-teaching of prejudice, is to examine the changing connotations..
A. MEANING SHIFTS IN OTHER LIBERATIONS
Here are some of those shifts in other movements:
a. native rights- Terms used in earlier times to identify a group became used in ways perceived as demeaning and have been reassessed. Terms have in many areas been changed to terms like native, indigenous, first nations, aboriginal, Inuit. Many native groups now suggest that rather than struggle to find a label that is polite, it is best to just ask the person concerned how they wish to be referred to.
b. race, nationality, rights – identifying someone by race or skin color may be
somewhat factual or not, but is often now seen unfair to
even notice, as unfair as would be categorizing people by ear length.
Some words used in earlier times are now taboo and have been
replaced with more politically sensitive terms.
c. disability rights –
Some terms were technical IQ categories that
became insults and are now rejected. as pejorative
Terms for many physical challenges have been rejected and have been replaced with more politically sensitive terms.
d. sexual orientation rights- many terms of insult have been
used. The twenty -first century has attempted to remove
not only discrimination in the law but also in
the language to ensure respect and dignity.
e. discrimination based on appearance – terms originally used as identifiers
of girth or height have been overused so much that many are now seen
as by definition insulting.
f. discrimination based on income – many terms prejudge character based on
income. Even residence has been used as insult
and such terms are no longer deemed politically correct
We have however also seen a reclaiming of some terms and insisting on them being applied with respect. Part of this reclaiming is to empower those in the category to themselves not feel lesser for being there, to feel proud, defiantly asserting their right to equality.
race rights – black power. black is beautiful, black lives matter
disability rights – differently abled, use a wheelchair
sexual orientation rights – loud and proud
discrimination based on appearance – big and beautiful.
B. MEANING SHIFTS ABOUT GENDER
Men in some cultures were \historically discouraged from crying in public, from showing fear or sentimentality or from any departure of the strong ‘macho’ image. This strong social pressure is sometimes blamed for the higher rate men have had compared to women for handling stress through smoking tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. When women became liberated to access the pleasures men accessed, the women also then had to also experience some of the downsides and stressors of those new rights.
The oddities of these aspects of gender discrimination have been noticed in the 21st century where a liberation to value gender roles and choice may also permit men to show some of their feelings, and to perform care roles previously discouraged, while women are able to access role, power and money they had not previously had.
The levelling and equality then may force a kinder treatment of those in business, politics, sports. It may give more flexibility in the paid workplace for time with the family, for men or women. It may give permission for men too, not just women, to be caregivers in the home, with dignity and status and financial recognition of the role.
Uncovering the dilemma, and the biases of words in the care sector over time therefore is complex.
There have been subtle shifts in the meaning of words for girls and women, in labels for married women and men, in labels for pregnancy and nursing women,. There have been shifts in the meaning of labels for women or men taking care of children at home- in essence words that reflect the status of the care role in the home.
Here are some of those shifts in words in the care sector.
1. status of women and girls
Historically there have always been terms that praised the female sex, terms that were neutral and terms that insulted it. Reading through them one might see however a shift over time
woman, womanly virtues, gentlewoman
Physical appearance of women was a key focus as if their role or value were defined by their attractiveness.
damsel, beauty, lassie, Amazon, dish, doll
Character was often the focus of a label, especially sexual character:
strumpet, harlot, whore, scarlet woman, tramp
seducer, deceiver, courtesan, debauchee
witch, hussy, skenk, wench
specific names became insult names of perceived character. A ‘ Becky”, a “Karen” or a “Sharon’ in the 21st century are sometimes used as insult labels .
Some terms for women refer to them as cute but somewhat mindless, alluding to animals
chick, filly, hen,
Some terms referred to the intelligence of women, often in insulting ways
dumb blonde, bimbo, valley girl,
The term ‘girl ‘ is not itself an insult but when a male coach criticizes his male team as ‘girls’ the term is used as an insult. Men are sometimes mocked for being dominated by women in some expressions:
tied to a woman’s apron strings, hiding behind a woman’s skirts
To call a man ‘effeminate’ was a perceived insult.
To say a girl was ‘one of the boys’, or had a ‘boyish grin’ was not.
2. status of boys and men
The words used for males have also had the range- terms of praise, terms of insult and more neutral terms.
Some terms of earlier times indicated social class
gentleman, sir, lord, milord
Young males were given labels that assumed a future greatness
Unlike for women where appearance was a key criterion for labels, labels for males tended to be about character, and often praising
man of the world, man of letters,
man of the moment, man up, a man’s man, a man for all seasons
man of the year, my right hand man, be your own man
man about town
Some terms over time assumed gender in professions
boys in blue, fireman, policeman, mailman
The terms that assumed that only men were included in rights were challenged in court and for legal documents.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry
fit for a king
all ‘men’ are equal
everyone should get ‘his’ own supplies
everyman, man in the street. man in the moon
Some terms of success seemed to assume the male gender
Other expressions seemed to assume men and men’s lifestyles to refer to all people:
old boys’ network
where to hang your hat, hot under the collar
separate the men from the boys
fellow, chap, bro
Many terms of friendly banter assumed the listener was male and in the 21st century even, women may use those terms amongst each other to show friendship
you guys, hey dude
man- the term was used both to refer to the human species and to only the
males within it. This overlap created some resentment in the
1980s that argued that any term with ‘man’ in it was sexist.
Words like mankind, manpower and expressions like ‘put
a man on the moon or ‘man the torpedoes’ were questionned
as if the meaning of man was not person, but ‘male’.
This reassessment of terminology to remove ‘man’ from the
language has however in the 21st century not been universally
considered necessary. Spellings of women as womon, wombyn,
wimmin or womyn have not been widespread.
To describe groups of men terms often imply strength such as
troop, band, posse, crew, wolf pack, gentleman’s club, team.
Groups of men however had names with less power:
– a bevy, flock, gaggle, hive.
Women were a flock, a gaggle, a hive.
Men were associated with strong, wise or fesity animals such as lions, tigers,
owls, stallions, bucks.
Women were associated with animals of less admired
character – snakes, cougars,lizards.
word order -even listing people of both genders, it was common to name first the male
in any category – kings and queens, lords and ladies, men
and women, husband and wife, boys and girls, lads and
lasses. This word order was maintained except in a few formal
circumstances – ‘ladies and gentlemen’
the ‘bride and groom”
3. terms based on marital status
Labels for unmarried men have had consistentlyositive connotations. A bachelor was the name for a young knight in training. The term became used for any unmarried man, often with the adjective “eligible’
To depict a single unmarried man terms included:
dreamboat, babe magnet, ladies’ man
The name for an unmarried woman often hinted at a longing for marriage to be a key goal and sexual status to be a key feature
maid – the label for an unmarried woman, maiden, got shortened
to ‘maid’ in the Middle Ages and then linked to servant
status – housemaid, chambermaid, handmaid, milkmaid.
Labels for women that referred to their unmarried status often however were judgmental in a negative way. When young the woman was possibly called an ingenue, mademoiselle, demoiselle. maiden
However terms indicated an early cut off point of age, after which the woman was labelled a spinster, old maid
Terms for being married also shifted. Earlier ones emphasized a formal serious commitment.
took a mate, consort
conjoined, espoused, wed
pledged troth (troth- from the word for truth, promise, trust)
More recent terms have emphasized other aspects of the decision, more negative with suggestion of risk or even entrapment.
tied the knot, said ” I do”
got spliced, joined in wedlock, got hitched, took the plunge
The people involved have been labelled differently over time also
my betrothed, my spouse, my better half
my beloved, my helpmate
my partner in crime,
Expressions for married men often indicated power
The term ‘husband’ was for the male head of household
It also was used for the man who tilled the soil, occupied
the land and maintained it. To husband anything was to care for it, put aside and store wisely.In legal documents it was often the man who was listed as head of household and the man who was the one empowered to make financial decisions for the family and marriage decisions for the female offspring.
Other expressions linked power to males in a household.
rule the roost , wear the trousers., wear the pants in the family
breadwinner, the man of the house
Expressions for married women, the female counterpart to the male in the household varied widely and evolved. Earlier terms showed respect
lady of the house, mistress of the household
The French term ‘madame’ was historically a term of respect for the married woman. However it became used only in formal situations and survived however in a different context -a madam’ was the operator or a brothel.
The term ‘wife’ at first just meant woman.. A midwife was a woman who helped at time of childbirth. A fishwife was a woman of humble social rank. A housewife was a woman who tended a house and the name got associated with a married woman in the home.
The term ‘ wife’ however did not become a term of power, unlike the male counterparts. The label for one’s wife developed other connotations;
the ball and chain, the battle axe
The term ‘hussy’ evolved from the word ‘housewife’ and came to mean a disrespectful woman insistent on rights was called a ‘brazen hussy”
The perceived role of the woman often became part of the label where the domestic role was somewhat mocked.
housekeeper, homemaker, hausfrau
chief cook and bottle washer
little suzy homemaker
A group of married women was sometimes identified not based on their own skills but on their husbands’ status.
wives’ club — where there was no parallel ‘husbands’ club
The term ‘home’ was used with positive connotations;
home free, feel at home, hit a home run, strike home, home away from home, drive a point home, a home truth ,longing for home, homesick, keep the home fires burning, welcome home, just like home, a place looks homey
Over time the term ‘home ‘however also was given negative connotations
home bound, stuck at home, stay-at-home, homely, house-bound
4. terms about roles
The expression ‘women’s work’ appeared since the 1500s.though historically
the care roles in the home already were deemed mostly
the responsibility of women- to cook, clean, tend the
young, sick frail elderly and dying.
roles – The roles were so strongly associated with gender that
the role name itself got linked to that assumption
Though either gender could do most roles there was a growing
assumption of gender with some careers:
protector is male, comforter is female
boss is male, aide is male,
secretary is female, receptionist is female,
doctor is male, nurse is female,
school principal, headmaster is male,
elementary school teacher is female,
gendered male roles such as policeman not
policewoman, and gendered female roles
such as washerwoman, not washerman.
Even objects associated with a role subtly were linked to
lower status. The domestic role uses brooms, mops and cloths
for cleaning. A broomstick became historically associated
with witches, cleaning cloth with rags and poverty such
as putting on glad rags or having a rag doll or being tired or
helpless – a wet rag.
Mops were given some power images such
as a mopping up operation in the military and mopping the floor
with someone. However tools used in roles more often done
by men got power connotations.- sure as shooting,
straight as an arrow. Men were told to go out and tote that barge
and lift that bale; women were told to keep to their knitting.
Restrictions on women’s roles based on the idea men were good
at some things, women at others, created a mystery
and interest in what was not allowed, enticing women to overcome
obstacles, break through ceilings to get what had been denied. The
tone also became one of viewing the current role as lesser. So the
care role in the home, earlier seen as its half of a household functionning,
was seen in the 1960s as a failure to move into new territory. Though the
tasks in the home had not changed in value to the household, the role
previously named homemaker now was called ‘just’ a housewife.
5. words about pregnancy and nursing children
Historic terms for pregnancy often showed respect for the condition, with its inherent social value to create offspring for a tribe leader’s genetic line, heirs for royalty, helpers on the farm.
conceived and bore a child, with child
gave birth, the blessed event
expecting, bun in the oven, pea in the pod, eating for two
However over time the condition got labelled with more negative connotations
up the spout, knocked up, preggers, up the duff, got herself pregnant
pushed out puppies, pushed out babies
A b*tch was originally the name for the female of any species that had young, but got linked most often to the female dog who gave birth to a litter of puppies. The term evolved to pejoratively label for a woman who was opinionated and complained.
The name for parts of female anatomy associated with sex and reproduction also evolved. Earlier ones included
Later ones included profane names for body parts as well as more functional labels with less positive connotation.
boobs, bazookas, knockers, melons
A woman breast-feeding a child was labelled differently aover time, some terms showing respect
nursing mother, had a child at the breast
Over time the nursing function got devalued for a time
However in the 21st century there has been a reclaiming in some cultures of the nursing function with encouragement to breast feed and many fashion products for nursing mothers.
The term ‘nurse’ originally was a female servant and the one who tended children. A wet nurse breast-fed the children of another woman, and a dry nurse tended them without the physical breast feeding.
The physical difference between men and women was sometimes used as an explanation in earlier centuries for explaining a perceived personality difference, often to claim men were superior in strength and toughness while women were weaker and emotionally unstable
The word for uterus’ hysteria’ or ‘hystericus’ was used by early Egyptians and Greeks who assumed that women had a medical condition due to a wandering uterus. Over the centuries ‘hysteria’ was the label given to inability to have children, failure to marry, miscarriage, menopause.
In the middle ages women were sometimes accused of being witches or possessed by Satan and needing exorcism. In the 1800s hysteria was used to label patients, usually women, who suffered from amnesia, anxiety, fainting, spasms or pain. Some psychiatrists theorized the cause of these ailments lay in sexual repression.
In the 1900s hysteria was used as a label for medical conditions as varied as movement oddites, spasms, vomiting, even deafness. The label of ‘hysteria’ was only removed from official medical disease lists in 1968.
6. terms about raising a child
Terms about parenting roles have also changed. Earlier terms linked having children to creating ‘family’ and had a positive connotation
started a family, family ties, one big happy family, our little family, family time, it runs in the family
However over time the act of parenting was given negative associations suggesting laziness, burden or pathology if done intently.
stuck home with the kids
left holding the baby
The terms for father in early times had positive associations. Some of this connotation remains
sire, procreator, progenitor
pops, daddy, dada, poppa, dad,
Children were given the last name of the father and it was deemed scandalous for many years for the situation to be otherwise. Many expressions assumed the male parent was the one that mattered.
gathered to one’s fathers, faith of our fathers,
founding father, like father like son, chip off the old block
the child is father of the man
Only a few terms used fatherhood in a negative sense
A ‘dad joke’ was not a genuinely funny joke. A deadbeat dad was one who did not pay child support.
The terms for mother in the language also were often positive in early times
mother nature, mother earth, mother tongue, mother country
Mothers were sometimes labelled for attractiveness, which was treated as if their key attribute.
hot mama, yummy mummy
The term mother and its associates of mom mama, also got associated heavily with negatives however.
mom jeans (unattractive, allowed for larger body)
mom bangs( unskilled haircut given to child)
mother ( the thick substance on a liquid, scum or dregs)
my old lady was a confusing expression that had more negative connotations that did the parallel ‘my old man’
Terms for mother often showed endearment
mama, mom, mummy, momsy,
However a growing number of terms pathologized motherhood that was attentive in a certain style
stage mom, hockey mom, soccer mom, tiger mother
nanny -the term for a female adult who tends children has origins in
a Greek word nana for aunt, a Russian word Nyanya for grandmother
and a Welsh word nain for grandmother. It was used to label the female
goat as distinguished from the male billy goat and got associated
not only with care of young children but also with over protective and
over intrusive government policy- nanny state.
A grandparent who was male however got associated with wisdom In law a provision where an old rule continues to apply even though a new rule will apply from now on is called, with respect, a ‘grandfather’ clause. There is no grandmother clause.
7. terms for children.
The label of the youngest members of a community also shifted.
Earlier terms for infants suggest helplessness and need for protection
babe, nursling, infant
Later terms created a subtle shift
baby, little one, toddler, kid
The label for children in earlier times suggested their perceived role or usefulness in society
minor, tender years, formative years, tender age
small fry, kid, youngun
youngster, youth, juvenile
Young males were given often admiring labels about potential for greatness
lad, stripling, little man
Young females were given labels such as:
maiden, lass, miss, little girl, little lady
A “golden boy’ was an indulged or gifted male child while a ‘golden girl’ was a pejorative usually for an older woman.
Terms about children that suggested their lack of experience and how easy it was to amuse them included
child’s play, kids’ stuff, like taking candy from a baby
However such terms may have also created an impression that taking care of a child was also easy and not dealing with development of the mind
Terms about positive aspects of children included
whiz kid, poster child
Terms that were not admiring of children also abounded
punk kid, snot nosed kid, just a kid,
The status of a parent at home tending a child shifted.
In earlier times expressions were given such as
taking care of the kids, home with the kids, taking care of the house
raising a family
However later the situation got depicted differently
has quit working, stays home, is taking time off, is on leave
just a housewife
stay at home mom, stay at home dad
8.. terms about the status of children based on marital status of parents
In earlier times the labels for children born to parents not married to each other was judgmental. harsh and negative. They were usually deprived of legal rights, including full name and identity, rights to be introduced into polite society, to get references for some club membership or roles in politics or business and the right to be buried in a church yard.
illegimate, b*stard, out of wedlock
usurper, pretender, unintended
The label for an unmarried parent has historically always been negative
unwed mother (the expression ‘unwed father’ is much less common)
single mother (the expression ‘single father” is less common )
single mother on welfare ( is a common phrase as if the poverty goes with the marital and family status)
The language changed however when the attitude changed and the marital status of parents was deemed not legally relevant in many official legal processes. The status in this situation has improved, though some vestiges of social bias may remain.
9. terms based on income of parents
Social class has often been the key to labelling of the parent or the child. Many of these terms have negative connotations.
welfare mom, trailer park kid, ghetto kid, kid from the projects
These labels that prejudge character based on income could be seen to create their own problem because a person deemed of lower status may be thought to be worth less financial recognition, perpetuating bias.
One oddity of the language is the use of the term ‘poor’ When applied to parents it often carries a double meaning where a parent in poverty, dubbed a ‘poor parent’ is also then assumed to be poor at parenting.
10. terms about the.number of children
In earlier times when women were valued mostly for their ability to bear young to create heirs and future workers for the tribe, infertility was stigmatized. Terms of insult included
barren, infertile – terms linked to meanings of desolate, sterile, useless
However the status of not having children shifted with new labels
Similarly the label for those who had many children was historically often praising
prolific, fecund, fruitful, procreative, teeming, multiplied, mother of many, matriarch
However over time, as women had fewer children whether from desire to have fewer or lack of ability to afford more, those who did have a lot of children are sometimes labelled in negative ways
dumb cow, brood mare
just kept having babies
11. terms about aging
The status of older man also shifted in the language though there have always been terms of praise and terms of criticism
The terms for aging often have assumed it is men who age with dignity
elders, elder statesman (there is no ‘elder statewoman term)
Most leaders in politics were men and the names for them were linked to men.
senator (no senatress), legislator ( no legislatress),
Terms for aging men often showed humor and respect for their quirks
grandpa, granddad, gramps
old man, geezer, pop, papa, old boy, codger, old timer
The terms for women as they aged also could show respect, but often did not.
Here were some terms of respect
dowager, grandmother, grandma, granny,
Terms with negative connotations were numerous
shrew, old girl, old dear
she’s no chicken
old hag – (linked to term haggard meaning weak, exhausted)
The association of elderly women and negative connotation
is a key feature of the cosmetic industry and of job hiring for TV anchors or movie actresses, where signs of aging are much less a criterion for men than for women.
A particularly interesting expression that reveals continued
bias is the labelling of an idea as ‘old wives’ tale’. This expression
assumes such a tale is vastly inaccurate.
The financial status of the elderly is reflected in some expressions with a gender bias implied. A ‘wealthy banker’ is assumed to be male.
The language has a word for a woman whose spouse has died ‘ widow’ but rarely uses the male counterpart for a man whose spouse has died’ ‘widower’. This fact may reflect the strong link history has made between female financial dependency and no recognition on their own for the care role of women. The assumption widows are in poverty, and the expression’ widow’s mite’ may also reflect a societal acceptance of the norm of a high incidence of senior women in poverty.
Some of the language bias against age may be linked to societal preference for novelty, new products, variety, so that terms for anything not new had negative associations’
old, worn (literally means has been ‘worn ‘ at all, someone wore it once) but got to mean worn ‘out’)
used, second- hand, old-fashioned
C. RECLAIMING OF TERMS AND CORRECTION OF BIAS
In the care sector there has been some reclaiming of terms, rather than just asking society to drop ones of previous stigma. Often language follows and does not lead human behavior however. The new interest in the dignity and value of the care role is not always matched with official status for it or financial recognition of it- therefore not yet given equality
Some shifts have been to remove other terms and add new ones, free of gender bias
removing gender assumptions from paid roles
police officer, letter carrier, firefighter,
chief executive officer
Other shifts have been to reclaim a term that showed bias and own it and remove the stigma.
1. reclaimed terms – status of women and girls
yes I run like a girl. See if you can keep up
I am woman, strong invincible
new interest in curvy bodies, large butts and owning sexiness
new interest in frilly clothes and embracing looking ‘ feminine’
the sisterhood, sista
domestic partnership, conjugal relationship, gay marriage
domestic engineer, home engineer
Earlier terms of stigma included
marriage failed, from a broken home
However new expressions suggest more positive outcomes
split, went their separate ways, separated, conscious decoupling
The terms associated with domestic life seem to have
lost then regained respect. A ‘home made’ dress was stigmatized
in the 1980s but a home-cooked meal now has special positive
associations of careful loving preparation and good food.
2. reclaimed terms – status of pregnant and nursing mothers
There has been new interest in the joy of pregnancy
but mainly when watching celebrity women and the
baby bump, we are expecting
5. reclaimed terms – Some terms have created more positive status for some
parenting situations and removed an earlier stigma.
birth mother, birth father
baby daddy, baby mama,
6. reclaimed terms for aging
senior citizens, seniors, mature, experienced, old reliable
This new respect for adults of a certain age is slow as is the mixed messaging about products of a certain age, but there is also some reclaiming there
classic, antique, tried and true, twice-loved
Changing the words we use to reduce negative connotations is a key way to address discrimination. Reclaiming words with dignity is difficult but useful. However changing the word use is only the beginning of course. It has to go hand in hand with changing laws that discriminate.