Sexism in Medical Communication

Sexism in Medical Communication

Yasmin Grant (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, UK)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9599-1.ch006
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Communication is one of the most essential skills of the medical profession, however, it is a tool through which sexism and gender discrimination are promoted and reproduced. There is often the perception in medicine and surgery that gender inequity centres on lifestyle, family responsibilities, and childcare issues. However, this chapter highlights that deeply engrained biases in medical communication still exist, and are perpetrated by institutions and individuals, women included. Awareness of gendered language must be raised and highlighted in order to make a change. It is achievable to speak in gender-neutral ways that are inclusive and precise as to not conjure biased attitudes towards women in medicine. Social change must be pursued at the level of the institution, the cultural structure, and at the interactional level of gender.
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The study of gendered language in sociolinguistics is thought to have commenced in the Language and Woman’s Place, a paper written by Robin Lakoff in 1973. In this text, Lakoff (1973) states: “Our use of language embodies attitudes as well as referential meanings. The marginality and powerlessness of women is reflected in both ways women are expected to speak, and the ways in which women are spoken of. In appropriate women’s speech, strong expression of feeling is avoided (and) expression of uncertainty is favoured. The personal identity of women thus is linguistically submerged; the language works against treatment of women, as serious persons with individual views.”

Lakoff’s paper was an attempt to provide diagnostic evidence from language use for the inequity between the roles of men and women that had been claimed to exist in society. Nearly 45 years on, women in medicine can relate and identify to this sociological phenomena through the use of language in the workplace. Language and communication is a very powerful system that offers clinicians and patients beliefs in which they can present their attitude to gender.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sociolinguistics: Study of the language differences between two sexes.

Gendered Language: Language that has a bias towards a particular gender.

Gender Bias: Prejudice towards one gender.

Medicine: The occupation of the practice of promoting and restoring health through identification and treatment of illness.

Surgery: The occupation of the treatment of tissues of the body by incision or manipulation.

Gender Inequity: The unequal treatment of women and men.

Feminism: The promotion of female rights and advocacy of equality of the sexes.

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