Subordination and trivialisation in language

Subordination and trivialisation in language occur when one gender, often women, is painted as inferior or is belittled.


Trivialisation is any language which makes something seem unimportant and is closely related to subordination. Often things pertaining to women are trivialised through language that makes something sound ‘small’ or ‘cute’. This may appear benign but can have the effect of reinforcing women’s subordinate place in society.

Patronising language

One example of trivialisation is the addition of diminutive affixes to denote that the referent is female. Gender-sensitive writers should avoid these expressions as they can trivialise women.

Gender-discriminatory language
The actress waved to the audience as she came on stage.

Gender-sensitive language
The actor waved to the audience as she came on stage.

Language that refers to people unknown to you in terms of endearment (‘My dear’, ‘Darling’, ‘Love’, and ‘Dear’ when used in speech) is patronising and condescending and promotes trivialisation. These forms should not be used unless the interlocutor has a close relationship with the speaker.

  • Another common way of trivialising women is to refer to adult women as ‘girls’. This is patronising and should be avoided.

  • Additionally, sometimes the word ‘woman’ is used dismissively, e.g. ‘Get out of my way, woman!’

  • As well as avoiding obvious gender insults, you should avoid patronising women using more innocuous terms.

How to avoid subordination and trivialisation?

Ensure that your language promotes gender equality by not trivialising or subordinating women.

When referring to women, you should use the term Ms which does not denote marital status.

Always use the same naming conventions for men and women when referencing.

You should be aware of the word order of your phrases and make sure that you are not always putting the male version first.

Avoid patronising women using more innocuous terms.

Other articles that might be interesting:

Be aware of the objectification of bodies

Be aware of mansplaining attitudes during trainings and games

What is toxic masculinity and how to tackle it

Other resources

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