Language Matters In Law

Language Matters In Law

The Supreme Court has done a great service to the legal fraternity and the general public by initiating the publication of a handbook that addresses the problem of stereotyping of women.

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Thursday, August 17, 2023, 10:15 PM IST
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Supreme Court | File Photo

The Supreme Court has done a great service to the legal fraternity and the general public by initiating the publication of a handbook that addresses the problem of stereotyping of women. It is presumed that a woman who dresses “unconventionally” has loose morals. Similarly, a woman who drinks or smokes in public invites sexual attention. The fact of the matter is that her drinking or smoking does not mean that a man can take liberty with her. There is a general perception that once a woman is “raped”, she would feel miserable and would complain immediately. She is also expected to show suicidal tendencies. There is no standard way in which a woman would respond to such challenges. It varies from person to person. If the victim takes time to file a complaint, it does not mean that she had “invited” the assault. Alas, stereotyping creates situations in which the rapists get the benefit of the doubt. As it is, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to securing justice in a system heavily laden in favour of men.

The handbook also addresses the issue of language discriminating against women. Studies show that the women contribute as much, if not more, to the economy as the men. The term ‘housewife’ does not do justice to the enormous contribution she makes to the family. She is truly a ‘home worker’ as the book says. “Prostitute, hooker, slut” etc are derogatory terms for a woman who is a ‘sex worker’. Most of the laws were drafted by the British, who were influenced by the Victorian mores. That is why a child born out of wedlock is referred to as an “illegitimate child”. A wife is a wife and to use adjectives like “good wife, faithful wife, obedient wife” etc is indefensible, when similar terms are not used for a husband. Similarly, terms like ‘bread-winner, bread-provider and head of family’ are not used for women even when they perform such roles. A man is never called a “career man”, whereas a woman holding a job is routinely called a “career woman”. When efforts are made to use gender-neutral names for even God, it is in the fitness of things that the apex court has taken this initiative.

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