For years, advocates of inclusive language have been steadily drawing our attention to the clumsy use of language which can alienate various ethnic groups or religious adherents, the elderly, the young, the disabled, the poor, or even whole sexes. Why? Because language is more than just about communicating our thoughts effectively. Language is also an active participant in forming those thoughts.
For example, in our culture it is common practice to refer to the ‘opposite’ sex. This term implies that men and women are not just different, but are opponents; that they are in opposition to each other. Perhaps this is appropriate, as indeed, it seems that men and women are often pitted against each other in our society. Terms such as ‘battle of the sexes’ and ‘gender divide’ betray a competitive mentality between the sexes – a mentality that not only discourages appreciation of our sexual differences, but promotes disdain towards those characteristics that are seen as weaknesses in the, so-called, ‘opposite’ sex.
Complementarity VS Competition
The issue is not just about accuracy, it’s about mentality. We have consciously chosen to use the term ‘other sex’ instead of ‘opposite sex’. It’s a term that can acknowledge our differences as men and women without implying inequality or opposition. It suggests complementarity rather than competitiveness. It invites us to appreciate and celebrate our differences rather than denigrate them. It fosters curiosity towards the mystery of gender difference rather than frustration, bewilderment or resigned tolerance.
Yes – language does matter. Language not only expresses our thoughts both conscious and subconscious, it also influences them. Language is not the slave of our communication – it is a dynamic force capable of interacting with and reforming our attitudes and opinions. Next time you find yourself talking about the ‘opposite’ sex – try using ‘other’ sex and see if it takes you to a different way of seeing our differences.