Conferences & Symposia

Ways with Words: Exploring Language and Gender

Ways with Words: Exploring Language and Gender

Languages constantly evolve, and reflect cultural practices. They are a fluid reflection of the passage of time, influenced by many factors, including age, class, and gender. This conference will focus on a snapshot of the state of language in present-day society as it relates to, mirrors, and affects perceptions of gender. Four panels of experts, including anthropologists, authors, computer scientists, linguists, journalists, performing artists, politicians, and psychologists, will explore different facets of the interplay of gender and language.

The conference begins on Thursday evening with "Plays with Words," an evening about language and gender in comedy. On Friday, a keynote address and a full day of panels feature discussions about moving beyond binary distinctions, what the Internet and big data analysis can teach us about gender and language, and the role of gender in public discourse. Through comparative perspectives, multidisciplinary approaches, and contemporary examples, this program examines the inextricably related concepts of gender, language, and culture.

This event is free and open to the public.

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THURSDAY, March 3, 2016
7:30 p.m.

PLAYS with Words  

Welcoming Remarks

Lizabeth Cohen, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute and Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University

7:45 p.m.

Comedy, Language, and GendeR

Performers from ImprovBoston

Glenda Carpio, Professor of English and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

Aparna Nancherla, Comedian

Moderator: Robin Young, Co-host, Here & Now, WBUR and National Public Radio


FRIDAY, March 4, 2016
8 a.m.


Registration Opens

9 a.m.

Welcoming Remarks

Lizabeth Cohen, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute and Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University

9:10 a.m.


John Huth, Codirector of the Science Program at the Radcliffe Institute and Donner Professor of Science, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

9:20 a.m.

Panel 1: Beyond Binaries

For adults and children, gender identification is often tethered to language shaped by culture. This panel will explore how the use of language, particularly pronouns in different circumstances, childhood development, and social and gender stereotyping all affect the use and perception of language.

Bear Bergman, Author, poet, playwright, and theater artist

Wesley Thomas, Professor of Diné Cultural Studies, Chair of School of Diné Studies & Law Studies, and Dean of School of Graduate Studies & Research, Navajo Technical University

Rebecca Bigler, Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

Moderator: Stephen Burt, Professor of English, Harvard University

11 a.m.


11:15 a.m.

Keynote Address

Janet Mock, Cultural commentator, advocate for trans women’s rights, and New York Times bestselling author

Discussant: Moya Bailey, Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Northeastern University

12:15 p.m.

Lunch and Exhibition Viewing

1:30 p.m.

Panel 2: Big Data

The Internet, social media, and data mining have changed language and our ability to analyze usage, and increased sensitivities to the power of the words we use. This panel will explore how these new forms of discourse and analysis expand our understanding of the interplay of gender, personal narrative, and language, as well as data scraping that enables a statistical study of language usage by demographics.

Ben Hookway, Chief Executive Officer, Relative Insight

Lyle Ungar, Professor and Graduate Group Chair, Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania

Alice E. Marwick, Assistant Professor, Communication and Media Studies and Director of the McGannon Center for Communication Research, Fordham University

Moderator: Rebecca Lemov, Associate Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

3 p.m.


3:15 p.m.

Panel 3: Public Discourse

This panel will examine language used in the public domain and how it both reflects and shapes cultural attitudes toward gender. The question of who defines and controls language, and the role gender plays, is an important part of political campaigns, entertainment, and business marketing efforts.

Mary Mills, Worldwide Director of Strategic Intelligence, Saatchi & Saatchi

Christine Matthews, President, Bellweather Research and Co-founder, Burning Glass Consulting

Liza Johnson, Director and Screenwriter

Moderator: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication; Walter and Leonore Annenberg Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania

4:45 p.m.

Closing Remarks

John Huth

5 p.m.