BreakPoint: Gender, Language and Ideology

The French Say “Non!”

The words we use affect the way we think. And the proponents of gender-neutral language know it.

An important French institution recently warned the French people of a “deadly danger” in their midst that puts an important part of French life in “mortal peril.” The danger being referred to isn’t Islamist terrorism or even an over-fondness for Jerry Lewis movies—it’s the attempt to modify the French language in keeping with contemporary political sensibilities.

To understand the issue, you have to understand that French, like other Romance languages such as Spanish and Italian, is gendered. Every noun, “from professions to household objects,” is either male or female, as are the articles preceding them. In the case of things, such as people and animals, that come in both male and female, gender-specific articles and endings clear up any possible confusion.

Thus a male political candidate is “le candidate,” while a female one is “la candidate.”

Here endeth the language lesson.

A recent feminist campaign has sought to change French’s gender rules. They have challenged why some nouns are gendered in the way they are: for instance, the French word for “desk,” bureau, is masculine, while the word for “chair,” chaise, is feminine.

In its report on the controversy, the Washington Post made these distinctions sound arbitrary, if not sinister. But French, like other Romance languages, generally follows the lead of their ancestral tongue, Latin.

More “substantively,” French feminists claim that some usages, such as the one about candidates I cited above, “efface women from being seen in various personal and professional capacities.”

So by way of combatting this effacing they have resorted to what’s called “inclusive writing,” which uses parentheses and other written symbols to effectively change the spelling of written French in a way that is in keeping with their ideological project.

Which brings us back to the “deadly danger” France faces. On October 26th, L’Académie française, the guardian of the French language, issued what the Post called a “fiery condemnation” of “inclusive writing.”

It said that inclusive writing “leads to a disunited language, disparate in its expression, which creates a confusion that borders on illegibility.” It asked, “How will the generations to come be able to grow up in intimacy with our written patrimony?”

While this may seem like a tempest in a very fine teacup, there are serious issues at stake. Last year, John Stonestreet told you about the late Peter Berger’s experiences in Fascist Italy. What you called a stranger –“lei” or “voi”—revealed whether you were a fascist or an anti-fascist. Dangerous stuff in those days.

Today’s “inclusive writing” proponents are very clear about the ideological basis for their efforts. As they told the Post “To really change mentalities . . . we must act on what they are built by: language.”

Another way to say “change mentalities” is “impose ideology.” And it isn’t limited to France.

Here in the U.S., some universities are beginning to require that students be addressed by their preferred gender pronoun: he or she, or even they or “ze.” And if you’re a healthcare worker in California who repeatedly uses the wrong pronoun for senior transgendered patients, you could wind up in jail.

So you see, communication is not the goal. The goal is to first blur and then erase the distinctions between men and women, and of course, to separate gender from biological, linguistic, and spiritual reality.

In the face of this gender revisionism, let’s join with L’Académie française and just say “Non!”


Gender, Language and Ideology: The French Say “Non!”

Disregarding, ignoring or trying to destroy the differences between the sexes seems to be the practice-du-jour of the culture. But whether in language or daily life, the truth of God’s design for male and female stands the test of reality. As Christians we’re to be bold and winsome in our defense of that truth.




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  • Phoenix1977

    “L’Académie française, the guardian of the French language, issued what the Post called a “fiery condemnation” of “inclusive writing.””
    Hardly matters. In France equality trumps everything else. So now that this issue has been opened for debate it’s only a matter of time before the French government will make it happen.

  • IndigoBlue

    L’Academie Francaise is very strict about language changes; what you hear used in French Canadian and even on the streets of France is not necessary what is officially “accepted.” But more importantly why not do an article covering the push for gender fluid language in English?! In California there are some professors who will flunk their students for using gender specific pronouns regardless of who the student is referring to! And there are more and more blogs on the internet (English side) popping up using xe and xis grammar, and cis to designate straights. And there is a push towards using these terms in fiction as well as casual speech, and you can see that in experimental works published online and off.

    Languages with a built-in gender will probably not be as affected in the long run, but English is flexible enough to easily accommodate it. If you want to discuss this issues, talk about what is already being molded in America; I don’t think many realize just how far we’ve come already in making the switch over. At least, among millennials and the generation coming through now. This is everywhere, and I think in ten or fifteen years we will have a clear language Gap in our country.

    • Phoenix1977

      “Languages with a built-in gender will probably not be as affected in the long run”
      You’d be surprised. French is not the only European language with build in gender; German has genders build in as well. In fact, German has 3 genders: male, female and neutral. These genders influenced the pronounces but also the articles and the verbs. That made German a nightmare to study for all those not born in Germany so Germany decided to let go of the build in genders. Now everything has the same gender in German: neutral, eliminating all the dreaded lists of conjugations and exceptions. Of course the reason was different but there was remarkable little resistance, even from older generations of German people.
      If the government simply states: “This is how we will use our language from now on and everything before this is wrong” people will comply, especially if the schools are “encouraged” to teach the new grammar. That happened in the Netherlands about 15 years ago and there was a lot of protest. And yet, now everyone uses the “new” grammar (can you still call it new if it’s 15 years old?) and computer programs like MS Word no longer accept the spelling used 16 years ago. The same will eventual happen in France, also because in France equality is the most basic principle of their society. They even fought several revolutions over that concept.

      • Paul McCosby

        Just a parenthetical point: Latin, the progenitor of Spanish, French, etc. has the same three genders of nouns as German: masculine, feminine, and neuter. These were applied in a manner that, from our current state of knowledge often seems wholly random as in the case of the French words for “bureau” and “chair.”

  • Paul McCosby

    Interestingly, I have actually heard it theorized that originally only the masculine gender was used of persons no matter their gender, but that the feminine gender was later used specifically to designate a person that was female with the correspondent result that the masculine came to refer not only to persons of either gender but also as specifying that they were male.

  • Paul McCosby

    I don’t know about French, but some Latin nouns are of the neuter gender, including, oddly, one of the words for children.

  • Feminists? They’re Marxists, of course. One needs to identify the enemy
    in our midst if one is to defeat the enemy. The purpose of all
    Marxists is to promote social divisions and chaos, and one such means to
    societal chaos is to homogenize society. Civilizations require the
    esthetics of heterogeneity that attracts. The greater is the esthetic
    heterogeneity between men and women, the greater is the attraction and,
    hence, stability among the sexes. Homogeneity between the sexes can only
    breed a contempt for the dissimilar form of the opposite sex, precisely
    what Marxists desire.