A gender-neutral France?

By Natalia Ilina / November 25, 2017

The French take their national motto seriously. They are proud of their  “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” formula, which is French for “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Today, the accent is made on “equality”.

 

“Every three days, a woman dies in a domestic dispute. We are held responsible for that. The shame is misplaced – it is the abuser who should be ashamed. It’s a civic, political and national shame,” – said Emmanuel Macron, the president of France.

Today, on the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, he held a minute of silence for 123 women killed by their spouses in 2016.

 

Macron stated that eliminating violence against women is one of the priorities of his five-year term of office. Following his speech, he presented a plan of a “cultural war” against sexism and gender-based violence. It includes more severe punishment for offenders and establishing an online platform where victims can register their complaints before going to a police station to bring criminal charges. Also, as an Elysée official said, “stereotypes need to be deconstructed, there needs to be a cultural battle”. Therefore, to tackle “the root causes of the problem in society”, new classes will be introduced in the education system and there will be a stricter control of the internet and video games content for children.  

 

Some changes, it seems, were already implemented.

This fall, the first-ever school textbook promoting a gender-neutral version of French was published. This was a cause of joy for feminists, who claim that the sexist language produces sexist outcomes. If the new generation is educated in a gender-inclusive way, they say, it will lead to concrete positive changes in a society, make it more welcoming to women.

Others, however, refute that there is no tangible proof that changing a language will change social realities. Moreover, they say, it will complicate an already quite complex language and would negatively affect the education sector.

 

The Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is clearly of the second opinion: earlier this week, he released a directive banning the use of gender-inclusive terms in the official documents. The gender-inclusive language promotes the use of neutral terms (a “human being” instead of “man” or “woman”) and gender indication in titles or professions.

And while in the English language, that may sound fine – businessman or businesswoman – in French, it may cause awkwardness.

For instance, in French, there is a term “lecturer” – “maître de conférence”. The female version in English would be “lectress”. In French, however, in the female version, “maîtresse de conférence”, the word “maîtresse” also has a different connotation, that of “mistress”, or “concubine”.

So, “conference concubine”. Awkward.

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Natalia Ilina

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