pictured: Cardiff Met are trying to prevent the use of overtly gendered terms. (Source: (cup)cake_eater via flickr.)
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Cardiff Met clamp down on gendered terms

Does the ban of day-to-day phrases such as 'fireman' infringe on freedom of speech?

By Anna Dutton

A report was issued this week saying Cardiff Metropolitan University have introduced a new code-of-conduct that discourages the use of gendered words like ‘fireman’ or ‘housewife.’ The university stated it wished to promote an environment in which ‘everyone is treated equally.’ A nobel premise, however, restricting what people can say, some may view this restriction as a violation of free speech.

The intention behind banning these words seems plausible; they are simply trying to re-define the gender stereotyping derived from these words. It is true that traditonally using the phrase ‘house wife’ might conjure up an image of a woman who spent most her time in the domestic sphere. However, in today’s society, this of course isn’t the case as there are now many ‘house husbands’ as well.

The practicality of this ban is more ambiguous. Banning the use of certain words would require a system of constant monitoring. This would be necessary in order to catch people out when they use the gendered terms. In addition, codes of conduct laid out by the university are also less likely to be adhered to in peer groups or living environments outside of the academic sphere. Therefore, it is less probable this would be adopted in all environments, and thus the net effect of its usage would not have such a major impact as first thought.

Furthermore, by disallowing certain words, to an extent, free speech is hindered. People by law can use whatever words they choose, even if it is not deemed politically correct. This is not suggesting that the use of these words should be increased or unaltered, but that free speech will permit people to break the ban.

Dr Williams would support the claim that this rule is more ‘authoritarian’ by arguing that ‘the words have come to encompass more than just men. They are more general.’ To an extent, this seems true because a ‘fireman’ for example, is not immediately thought of as being a man anymore. But, there still seems to be some issues as an element of unconscious bias still exists, if more subtly, in society; gendered toys for example. Furthermore, for a long time, social norms were more rigid in what were defined as a typically ‘female’ or ‘male’ roles; these associations are trickier to revert.

The university has said these practices will ‘promote fairness’ and encourage a more inclusive atmosphere. The premise would benefit everyone, but the practice is unlikely to be as effective as the theory because it is impossible to ensure no-one uses these terms. Therefore, because the benefits seem more difficult in practice, Cardiff University would not benefit from introducing this as it’s impractical; it is unlikely any student, or person, will monitor their own speech so vigorously. In summary, the premise is amicable, but it is unlikely to be successful in reality as individuals are ultimatley entitled to speak as they choose.

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