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A Woman's Perspective - Gender Neutral Language in Obama's Inaugural Speech

President Made Deliberate Use of Gender Neutral Words and Inclusive Language


How seriously will President Barack Obama and his administration regard women's issues? A look at the language of his inaugural speech may reveal a clue. There's anecdotal evidence that an individual's use of language reflects his/her mindset; thus, a speaker who uses male pronouns exclusively and gendered words such as 'forefathers' is less likely to recognize sexism in his/her actions and behavior.

With this filter in place, I listened carefully to Barack Obama's inaugural speech and noted situations in which he made positive choices in terms of gender neutral pronouns and verbs, deliberately employed inclusive language, or sought out analogies or imagery that placed women on equal footing with men.

Below are highlights of Obama's speech which demonstrate this gender sensitivity and inclusive tone:

  • "I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors."
  • "America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents."
  • "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."
  • "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
  • "We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward ...the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
  • "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."
  • "...[T]o all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."
  • "...[W]e know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth."
  • "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."
  • "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

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