Monday, February 13, 2017

EUC Lecture Series: Language Shapes Opinion Toward Gender Equality with Margit Tavits

Image courtesy of Washington University
By Paula Jaime Agramon

Professor Tavits, a professor with the Department of Political Science at Washington University in Saint Louis, talked about her research study that planned to further study and prove how language shapes opinion toward gender equality. The motivation behind this study was that gender imbalances are still remarkably present in today’s world, and those imbalances can be seen even in highly developed societies. These imbalances are often traced to patriarchal attitudes and beliefs.

Professor Tavits argues that perceived gender equality depends on the language one speaks. She explained how people that speak gendered tongues such as Spanish (e.g. la luna ; el boligrafola luna is referring to the moon as a feminine noun ; el boligrafo refers to the pen as a masculine noun) use grammatical structures that train speakers to focus on gender; by doing this, speakers project gender features onto objects and individuals and it seems to also have an influence on younger speakers as they develop their own gender identity earlier than speakers of gender-less languages according to a recent study.

On the other hand, people that speak gender-less languages such as Estonian seem to promote equality. Ignoring gender seems to minimize the salience of gender as a relevant category.

The background behind this study argues that language affects cognition and that it sets a frame of mind for how people think. If language requires making certain distinctions between objects, then speakers are more likely to perceive these categories as real and relevant.

Three studies were conducted to prove that the hypotheses was in fact valid and that the first study was not an exception to the norm. The summary of the findings was that grammatical gender affects attitudes toward gender equality. The implications of these findings are:
  • Language may at least partially foster the persistence of gender imbalances
  • Social norms can curb language effects
  • Adopting gender-neutral terms in different languages may also affect attitudes about gender equality
Paula Jaime Agramon is a second year MAEUS student. She has studied Marketing and Management at East Tennessee State University where she also got her Masters of Business Administration.

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