School of Modern Languages

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Language and Inclusivity

About this resource

This resource has been created as part of the Language and Inclusivity project based at the School of Modern Languages. The project received support from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Equality, Diversity and Inclusion fund.

We promote better understanding of social issues such as, in this instance, gender. We help staff and students to start conversations on these crucial and complex topics. We believe that language matters for equality, diversity and inclusion in at least three ways:

  • because some notions are key to understanding the social dynamics at play
  • because some words convey biases – for example, a sexist, racist, ableist bias
  • because our university campuses are multilingual environments

This resource will serve as a basis for embedding EDI across the university, through a variety of workshops and training modules. It will be useful to teachers and educators in the University and beyond to introduce the topic of gender in class through the lens of language.



  • Cisgender is a gender identity, understood as the opposite of transgender.
  • You are cisgender if you identify with the gender assigned to you at birth.
  • Being cisgender comes with social privilege, even for people who are socially disadvantaged in other ways.


  • Gender and sex are distinct but often conflated.
  • Gender is a system of division (between women and women) and power (for men over women).
  • Gender is a social construct: it has been created and accepted by a society, and varies from society to society.
  • Gender shapes norms and values, and thus influences our ideas and behaviours, even when we are not aware of it.
  • Gender is linked to sexuality, and to assumptions about sexuality. Men are supposed to be sexually attracted to women, and women are supposed to be attracted to men.

Gender identity

  • Gender identity sits at the junction between gender – a social system – and the ways we understand this system and build our own identities.
  • Cisgender, transgender and non-binary are three examples of gender identities.


  • The theory of intersectionality arises from the experiences and struggles of black and Latina women in the US.
  • The image of intersection is used to describe the ways in which different aspects of our complex identities interact with each other. For example, the experiences of heterosexual and lesbian women, are distinct. Sexism takes a specific form for lesbian women, who also have to deal with homophobia.
  • It is a useful concept to understand how different social dynamics can define and affect our identities and our experiences. It is also a powerful concept for activism.
  • The theory of intersectionality has been criticised as being too academic, and as privileging identity politics over those struggles we have in common.

Masculine used as a generic

He, man, mankind…

  • Using masculine forms, such as he, man and mankind, is traditionally accepted as a way to talk about all individuals, not just men. In other words, masculine is supposed to be able to act in a gender-neutral way.
  • But evidence shows that speakers understand these forms more as masculine than as gender-neutral.
  • It is important to consider using truly gender-neutral forms instead, such as singular they instead of he, or humanity instead of mankind.


  • Non-binary is a gender identity.
  • It is used by individuals who do not identify as either women or men.
  • It is also an umbrella term for many different gender identities.


  • Queer used to be a slur used against non-heterosexual people.
  • It can still be used as a slur today, but a lot of younger LGBTQ+ people have reclaimed it, using it proudly to identify themselves.
  • It is often used nowadays as an umbrella term for people living outside heterosexual and cisgender norms.

They and other pronouns

  • Some people don’t have to think about the pronouns used to refer to them. If you are a cisgender woman, people use she/her/hers when talking about you; if you are a cisgender man, people use he/his/his.
  • Pronouns can become an issue for transgender and/or non-binary people, if they have to constantly announce which pronouns are appropriate for them, and to remind people of it.
  • In recent years, there has been a steady rise in the use of singular they by and about non-binary people.
  • Intentionally using the wrong pronouns is a form of everyday transphobia.

Titles: Miss, Ms, Mrs, Mx, Mr, Prof, Dr…

  • There are significant disparities in the use of titles for men and women.
  • For women, having to choose between Miss and Mrs means having to declare your marital status.
  • Ms is increasingly used as a third option and comes with its own connotations.
  • The academic titles Dr and Professor are not supposed to be gendered, but are still implicitly associated with men.


  • Transgender is a gender identity.
  • Being cisgender means identifying with the gender assigned to you at birth. Being transgender means identifying with another gender.
  • Transgender people are increasingly visible in the media, which can help inform people about what it means to be trans. But not all these representations are positive, and a lot of them perpetuate transphobia.
  • Transphobia can manifest itself in many ways, from intentionally using the wrong name and pronouns for a trans person to physical violence.

I got it wrong

Gender-inclusive language

Double standard

  • ‘A rule or standard of good behaviour that, unfairly, some people are expected to follow or achieve but other people are not.’
  • ‘Applied specifically to a code of sexual behaviour that is more rigid for women than for men.’

– Cambridge Dictionary

Terms of address

Girls, guys

  • Girls can be seen as belittling when used about adult women in certain contexts.
  • Guys can be gender-neutral. It can refer to men and/or women indifferently. But this interpretation depends on the variety of English at stake. In England, not everyone perceives it as gender-neutral.

Other gender-specific words

Gender, as a system, does not only class us as either man or woman. It also confers to us certain attributes, and the social values behind such attributes.


Coming soon…