Shopping Cart | Login | Register | Language: English

Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture

Copyright © 2009. 24 pages.
OnDemand Chapter PDF Download
Download link provided immediately after order completion
List Price: $37.50
Current Promotions:
20% Online Bookstore Discount*
Available. Instant access upon order completion.
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-786-7.ch005
Sample PDFCite


Kirk, Mary. "Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture." Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership. IGI Global, 2009. 119-142. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. doi:10.4018/978-1-59904-786-7.ch005


Kirk, M. (2009). Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture. In M. Kirk (Ed.), Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership (pp. 119-142). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-59904-786-7.ch005


Kirk, Mary. "Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture." In Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership, ed. Mary Kirk, 119-142 (2009), accessed October 21, 2014. doi:10.4018/978-1-59904-786-7.ch005

Export Reference

Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture
Access on Platform
Browse by Subject


Language as a social institution is the primary symbol system through which we teach/learn about our dominator culture. The assumptions, values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are considered “normative” are deeply embedded in our language and communication style. The “language of domination” features “shoulds and musts, blame and criticism, [and] judgment and demand,” all of which privileges certain groups and suppresses others according to their “appropriate” social rank (Hart, 2004, p. 114). Language is also one of the powerful mechanisms for teaching and conveying stereotypes; the significant impact of which we have already explored. Further, without a great deal of mindful effort, the average person conforms to stereotypes of language and communication style without even being aware of it. Johnson (2006) describes how most of us learn to take the “path of least resistance” with regard to social expectations of ourselves and of others. This also points to the necessity for what feminist activists and scholars have called “consciousness raising.” Once we become conscious of the ways in which our language and communication style reflect dominator stereotypes that have taught us false models for how to think about ourselves and each other, we can make conscious choices to do things differently. This chapter explores the following concepts in an effort to chart the map down the “path of resistance” to a dominator social system: (1) why political correctness matters; (2) gendered communication style; (3) malecentered IT communication style and culture; and (4) dominance, violence, and sex metaphors in IT.
Chapter Preview


This chapter aims to help you understand the following:

  • Why paying attention to “political correctness” matters in our dominator social system.

  • Ways in which both language and communication style are gendered and maleness is privileged over femaleness.

  • How the communication style that predominates in IT contributes to an IT culture that may not be hospitable to many women.

  • How the predominance of violence in language, metaphors, and video games contributes to an unfriendly climate for women in IT.

  • How the IT culture is not immune from the sexual objectification of women that predominates in the larger society and the toll that can take on women in IT.

Why Political Correctness Matters

One common and clear example of how values, attitudes, and beliefs are taught via language is the notion of “political correctness.” In the 60s and 70s in the U.S., a variety of previously marginalized groups gained a louder social voice, and one of the social institutions that they began to challenge was language. In a dominator social system, those in power hold the power to name; the words of one group are privileged, while the words of the subordinate group are “lacking in authority, forcefulness, effectiveness, persuasiveness” (Spender, 1980, p. 10). Therefore, for subordinate groups, investing the dominator language with their own different and positive meanings is a priority (p. 6). However, when previously subordinate groups reclaim the power to name, they also explicitly disrupt the system of rankings that is a primary element of dominator societies. So, groups who are privileged by the system of dominance will naturally resist since they perceive these changes as representing a loss of power. With regard to language, the result has been the invention of a concept now referred to as “political correctness.”

The claim from those with social privilege and social authority is that they should not have their beliefs, attitudes, and words defined by others; they often invoke “libertarian principles of freedom of expression” (Herring, 1999, p. 151). This claim denies the fact that in a dominator social system many are not free to speak without repercussions. Spender (1995) states:

Free speech often amounts to free speech for the White man . . .women and people of color, for example, have always had to watch what they say. They have had to see which way the wind is blowing before they can express an opinion. (p. 225)


Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: Reset
Chapter 1
Mary Kirk
One barrier to more people understanding the work of feminist scholars is a fallacious view of “feminism” that has transformed an entire area of... Sample PDF
Demyth-ifying Feminism: Reclaiming the “F” Word
Chapter 2
Mary Kirk
Dualisms are a hallmark of dominator societies, and dualistic thinking is a deeplyembedded attitude that shapes our values and beliefs. The... Sample PDF
Dualisms and Stereotypes: Tools of Domination
Chapter 3
Mary Kirk
This chapter explores the ways in which the dualistic notion of gender is at the core of many fundamental ideas in the philosophy of science. The... Sample PDF
Gendered Philosophy of Science: Science is Male, Nature is Female
Chapter 4
Mary Kirk
Communication is generally understood as a two-part process consisting of messages that convey content and the interpretation of that content by the... Sample PDF
Mass Media as Social Institution: The Wired Example
Chapter 5
Mary Kirk
Language as a social institution is the primary symbol system through which we teach/learn about our dominator culture. The assumptions, values... Sample PDF
Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture
Chapter 6
Mary Kirk
Education is another of the primary social institutions from which we learn the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of a dominator culture. A... Sample PDF
Education as Social Institution: Understanding Her-Story
Chapter 7
Mary Kirk
The global IT business as a social institution reflects the same dominator values as other social institutions in the U.S. Since IT is a large and... Sample PDF
Business as Social Institution: Global Issues in IT
Chapter 8
Mary Kirk
In Chapter IV, I discussed how language operates as a social institution to teach us the values, attitudes, and beliefs of our society. Our... Sample PDF
Partnership Language and Media: Creating a New IT Culture
Chapter 9
Mary Kirk
Ultimately, creating lasting and long-term change in the participation of women as developers, users, and beneficiaries of technology necessitates... Sample PDF
Partnership Science and Technology Education
Chapter 10
Mary Kirk
In Chapter VII, I asked how our knowledge about the dramatically unequal distribution of global income combined with the estimates on global... Sample PDF
Partnership Global IT Business
Chapter 11
Mary Kirk
This book has offered one feminist’s perspective on how a deeper understanding of our dominator social system might clarify why women are... Sample PDF
A Concluding Pledge: With Technology and Justice for All