Gender Neutral

In Language on October 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm

The gender of language seems to be an issue more and more now, especially with ‘political correctness’ being the popular thing.  In the English language we don’t assign words a masculine or feminine gender, however in French they do, and the debate about whether or not the gender assignment of French terms is sexist has arisen.  For example, ‘la tristesse’ (sadness) is feminine, while ‘le bonheur’ (happiness) is masculine.  There are many other examples but I feel as though it would be hard to tell whether or not this debate has any validity unless one looks at every word.  For me however, it’s not so much the words that make the difference but how one perceives them. 

But, then there is the issue of referring to groups of people.  In French, one can either use ‘Ils’ (masculine) or ‘Elles’ (feminine), which is equivalent to ‘They’.  What happens when there are a mix of genders? The males always trump the females – regardless of whether or not there are 50 women and just 1 guy, the group is assigned a masculine gender. 

Do the feminine and masculine of words impact the way women are viewed in French society?  The men who run the French Academy, and thus the French language, do they represent all the men of France? Perhaps this is the case, for I found the French to be liberal, something they pride themselves on, but extremely traditional. Yet, if the mindset were altered, semantics wouldn’t have to be.  In the English language we use ‘she’ for ships and such, or ‘he’ to refer universal man kind, which may be problematic to some people but it’d be a little confusing to refer to everything as ‘it’. 

Personally I like having terms for both men and women; I don’t want a neutral gender, I just want people to view both with equal respect.  I mean we can’t go as far as to say Humans and Hu-womans, History and Her-story, but I appreciate the differentiation of actor and actress, or waiter and waitress.  So I guess I’m saying I don’t want language to be male or female, or gender neutral.  I want it to be both, like a hermaphrodite I guess you could say.


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