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We must think about simplifying and demasculinizing the language

An opinion from Nadine Plateau, President of the teaching commission (CFFB).

“The gender that excludes is the feminine.” These words from the guide “Include without excluding”, the publication of which has gone almost unnoticed so far, summarize well the ignorance and the short-sighted which it shows vis-à-vis the admittedly sensitive but extremely relevant question of the place of women in language and culture in general. And yet, the authors of this publication had, in 2014, drafted the guide “Make feminine. Guide to feminization of job names, rank or title”. Unfortunately, this work does not seem to have encouraged them to continue the process of feminization of the language to read some of their recommendations (do not resort to abbreviated procedures like a lawyer or do not systematically duplicate the masculine names and feminine).

It is indeed appalling to note that despite the efforts of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation since the 1990s to make women more visible in the French language (since the 1993 Decree on the feminization of professional names) and despite the now widespread use of a more inclusive language in the media, this guide not only deliberately ignores the works in history which show that the French language has been masculinized since the 17th century (in particular the works of Eliane Viennot) but seems to deny any form of a gendered hierarchy conveyed by the language on the pretext that it is neutral.

The symbolic violence of language

Particularly heartbreaking is the spirit in which this guide was designed: there is bad faith in declaring that “the gender that excludes is the feminine” or that the prevalence of the masculine in the agreement, “does not reflect a hierarchy or a balance of power between words and their gender any more than other analogous practices” as if the symbolic field had no real effects on the social by being inscribed in the depths of our consciousness . The symbolic violence contained in the language is such that it is difficult for women to make themselves exist there and even to think of it as the equal of men. I have never forgotten that, during an exercise on the conditional in English, one of my 5th grade students completed the sentence “if I had lived in the 18th century …” with the words “I would have been a famous man “. As if this young girl could not think of celebrity for a woman, as if she had to change her sex for that! The pervasiveness in the language of the stereotypical expression “tall man” – which has nothing to do with height unlike tall women – has forced her to spontaneously censor her expression, to somehow mutilate her representation of her. -even. From the cradle, we ingested and, as far as I am concerned, more and more badly digested the inferiority of our sex inscribed in the French language since Vaugelas decreed the masculine “the noblest gender” (1).

Let’s also simplify

But, the most perverse, in my eyes, is the way in which the authors make those who try to transform the language feel guilty. Here they are likely to throw “trouble in learning”, “to disorient both little girls and boys in the acquisition of orthographic standards” and ultimately “to reinforce the exclusive value of the masculine”!

Of course, we should not underestimate the real difficulties posed by a transformation of the language for greater clarity and readability. It is also true that in the effort made to change oral and written language practices by resorting to so-called inclusive, that is to say who displays the marks of the feminine when both sexes are concerned, disorder reigns. We “pleonastic” (those; citizens) or we use the midpoint, the dash (the students are invited, invited) or we pose the mixed and reversible universality (if you are a boy, the masculine wins and if you are a girl, it’s the feminine) (2). It is because we have to innovate… Currently, language is subject to multiple experiences by people who want to enrich it by introducing plurality and diversity.

A reform has long been called for to democratize the French language and make it more accessible to all. We must take advantage of this context as well as the demands for inclusiveness to join our efforts and think about a transformation of this language going in the direction not only of simplification but also of demasculinization.

>>> (1) “Because the masculine gender is the noblest, it prevails alone against two women”, quoted by Edwige Khazadnar, Le feminine à la française, l’Harmattan, 2002, p.86.

>>> (2) Nicole Dewandre, “Languages ​​and sexes: another look at power and difference”, in The plurals of Barbara Cassin, PH. Büttgen et al., 2014, Ed. Le bord de l’eau, pp. 225-232 ..

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