Listen to me
Women have had the right to vote for 50 years, but are their voices being heard? What does it mean for a woman to have a voice?
What does 'having a voice' mean to you?
2021 is the 50th anniversary for women getting the right to vote in Switzerland. But just because women have the right to vote, does this mean their voices are heard?
From July to October 2021, the women’s voices initiative have heard from people all over Switzerland what it means for women to have a voice.
In the future, we will share more voices and interesting linguistic facts about women’s voices on our Facebook page and on our Instagram account @womensvoices.ch.
Are women's voices being heard?
The right to vote for women is the first step toward equality, not the last. Despite having this right for the past 50 years, women and women’s voices are still under-represented in Swiss politics, business and other positions of power.
Part of the reason for this is that from a very young age, women are taught that it is more important to “act like a woman” and “speak like a woman”: to be polite, to be supportive and caring, and to avoid conflict by deferring to others.
Even when they make it to the boardroom or to Parliament, women are held to this same double-standard. They are criticized for being “aggressive” when they assert themselves in conversation, and men feel entitled to interrupt them and to devalue their contributions.
For 50 years, women have had a voice, but they are still not being heard.
Why does language matter?
Our beliefs and vaues are reflected in how we use language. At the Center for the Study of Language and Society at the University of Bern, we believe that understanding the different ways we use language, and the histories of where these uses come from, is key to tackling social inequality and injustice.
By studying how women are talked to and about, we are able to reveal the ongoing barriers to equality that women face and the ways that traditional stereotypes about gender roles are perpetuated and reproduced.
Doing this research is important not only because it tells us about sexism in society today. It also helps us to see how we can change the ways we use language and, as a result, help to create a more just and equal society.
How does language perpetuate sexism?
Language encodes a sexist worldview by treating men as the default reference point and women as something special or different.
This is true in the grammar and the words that we use for referring to women and men. It is also true in the beliefs we have about what constitutes women’s and men’s speech and the ways in which we police and patrol women’s language.
Uncovering these sexist meanings in the very structures of language is the first step to overcoming them.
Find out more
Follow us on social media or visit or resources page for blogs, articles and research on language and sexism.