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The “Ge_nd:er/ed lang*uagǝ in Europe-ka” Edition

The “Ge_nd:er/ed lang*uagǝ in Europe-ka” Edition
By Weekly Focus by n-ost • Issue #6 • View online
Hi and welcome to the 6th issue of the Weekly Focus!
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Have you ever had an argument with someone about how male-dominated your native language is? For example, when it comes to describing professional titles? Well, you are certainly not alone. Many societies all over Europe are debating the topic of gender-inclusive language, often passionately, sometimes even escalating into cultural wars. (And that’s not even counting the discussions about how to adapt pronouns and suffixes for non-binary and gender non-conforming people.)
Although in 2008 the European Parliament became the first international institution to adopt a multilingual guide on gender-neutral language, it’s still an ongoing process all over the continent. While some are developing their inclusive writing style through creative means (such as incorporating different suffix-es, asterisks*, col:ons, and other punctu_ation), for others, there’s a fine line between preserving a language and adapting it to calls for inclusivity and diversity. This past month, the French government banned schools from using inclusive language, upholding the position of the 386-year old institution, l’Académie Française, where 40 immortels dictate the French language.
But incorporating gender-inclusive writing in the face of ‘language guardians’ isn’t only a challenge for the French. All across Europe, feminists and LGBTQ activists have been pushing for a more inclusive/equal language – not only to acknowledge the existence of women and non-binary people, but to actually give them a chance to be equal members of society. For them, it’s a symptom of a larger problem: gender injustice. Is language the key to solve it? 
Lucy Martirosyan, this week’s coordinating editor
This week's author team: Hana Ćopić (Berlin/Belgrade), Francesca De Benedetti (Rome), Nancy Waldmann (Frankfurt a.d. Oder), Kateryna Kovalenko (Kyiv/Berlin), Kaja Puto (Warsaw).
This week's author team: Hana Ćopić (Berlin/Belgrade), Francesca De Benedetti (Rome), Nancy Waldmann (Frankfurt a.d. Oder), Kateryna Kovalenko (Kyiv/Berlin), Kaja Puto (Warsaw).
🇷🇸 Discrimination for all!
Graphic: hanacurak.com
Graphic: hanacurak.com
You would think that Serbia would be more ahead on gender issues after it passed a new version of its highly-contested Gender Equality bill last week, but, instead, it’s been stuck on a washed-up, ongoing discussion on the linguistic representation of men and women.
The public debate surrounds gender equality and whether it is “violence towards language.” And, should professional titles of the “more beautiful sex” be written in the feminine form instead of the masculine?
A popular Serbian morning talk show posed these questions in March to a university professor and a linguist from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts — both women.
While the professor, Dubravka Đurić, talked about the relationship between language and society in a world that’s ever-changing, she was overshadowed by the conservative linguist, Dr. Jovanka Radić.
Radić argued that the Gender Equality bill is also a form of discrimination — a “feminization” – because it requires women to use the feminine form of their occupation in official documents.
“Anything is better than a legislator telling us how to think and speak,” Radić said, as if she, herself, does not represent an authoritative institution that dictates and protects the masculine-dominant Serbian language.
Unsurprisingly, she declared that gender is an imposed construct that has no place in language and is promoted by a vocal political minority that wants to change our consciousness. 
But is language really absent from politics? Radić, who represents the highest scientific institution in Serbia, continued by curiously claiming that the term ‘mother tongue’ comes from women “raising their children as mothers and nannies,” adding, quite provocatively, that the female moderator certainly “spends more time raising her children than with her husband.”
It was both impressive and frustrating to watch how this linguistic legislator, in 2021, tried to separate language from society under the guise of her so-called objectivity, while imposing her traditional views on family and gender roles. 
But Radić ended up involuntarily supporting Professor Đurić’s argument: “Language is not separated from any social processes. By learning the language, we adopt our world-views.”
Maybe if we listened to more scholars like Đurić then we would finally have a better chance at a nationwide discussion on the use of language that would move us forward — not backward.
Hana Ćopić is a translator with a focus on linguistics, feminism, LGBTIQ and the history of antisemitism. She is also the coordinator of the project “Local Journalism – European Perspectives” at n-ost.
Hana Ćopić is a translator with a focus on linguistics, feminism, LGBTIQ and the history of antisemitism. She is also the coordinator of the project “Local Journalism – European Perspectives” at n-ost.
🇮🇹 Number of the week: 33,046
GIF design: Karolina Uskakovych
GIF design: Karolina Uskakovych
While Rome is stalling from criminalising homophobia, a small town of 33,046 inhabitants in the region of Emilia-Romagna was tired of waiting. In April, the centre-left city council of Castelfranco Emilia announced that it will be using the much-disputed “schwa” symbol, ǝ, in its official social media writing to make the Italian language more inclusive.
“Language isn’t only a communication tool. Words shape the way we think and act, that’s why we decided to adopt a more inclusive language,” reads the statement on the municipality’s Facebook page.
The town’s choice was meant to spark debate, and indeed, it fueled many interesting discussions. Vera Gheno, a Hungarian-Italian sociolinguist, took a stand for the town’s initiative: “The schwa is an experiment. And experimenting with language is not forbidden.” 
I also asked myself whether “schwa” should be raised to the mainstream level. Domani, where I work, is a newly-born, independent newspaper with the stated goal of challenging inequalities and remaining sensitive to the calls for inclusivity. When Isabella Borrelli, an LGBTQ activist and contributor, sent me an article with “schwa,” I decided to keep it in the final version
Not everyone in Italy is ready for innovation. One of the biggest critics of “gender ideology” is the right-wing populist party, Lega Nord. Its former minister of family, Lorenzo Fontana, even co-organized the “World Congress of Family, an international anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conference in Italy’s “city of love”, Verona, in 2019. 
The Lega is also strengthening its ties to the right-wing Hungarian party, Fidesz. Together, they are pushing for a “New Conservatives” alliance in the European Parliament. One of the pillars of this project is the defence of the “traditional family.”     
Francesca De Benedetti is an Italian journalist with European vocation and writes about European politics at "Domani." She is interested in what happens in Hungary and Poland on the rights of women and LGBT people, and the European synergy between right-wing populist parties.
Francesca De Benedetti is an Italian journalist with European vocation and writes about European politics at "Domani." She is interested in what happens in Hungary and Poland on the rights of women and LGBT people, and the European synergy between right-wing populist parties.
🇩🇪 Less orthodoxy, more pragmatism
Magic words? Photo: Iqoncept, dreamstime.com
Magic words? Photo: Iqoncept, dreamstime.com
Ever since I started working as a local reporter in Frankfurt (Oder), an East German town on the border with Poland, I’ve become more and more cautious about the use of gender sensitive language.
Here, our readers are more conservative than in the liberal-leftist bubbles of Berlin, where I lived and worked before. But even the orthodoxy of queerfeminist speech activism there would start to annoy me.
Ironically, when I came to Frankfurt, it was the opposite extreme that irked me: the refusal to use inclusive writing by older colleagues and readers.
By “cautious,” I mean I don’t include diversity markers like asterisks (e.g. Leser*innen) or colons (e.g. Fussballspieler:innen) in articles. I rarely use binary double forms, depending on the context. Often, I look for gender-neutral words — some readers still feel provoked by this (most of the ‘Letter to the Editor’ writers are men). 
This may seem counterintuitive coming from an active LGBTQ organizer. I use gender-neutral language in private. But as a journalist, it’s important for me to approach the language of my audience situationally. I want to be read and understood. 
Germany is still one of the countries with the highest gender pay gap in Europe, even though gender-inclusive language has become more mainstream since more and more public institutions started using it in the last 2-3 years. On the other hand, the fair-gendered press releases from local officials often end up sounding like bureaucratic word monstrosities.
Many German media outlets have also picked up on the grammatical change. In January, the Berlin Daily Tagesspiegel enforced guidelines for gender inclusive language, but allowed authors to decide which forms to use. 
As Helmut Rasch wrote in an article for the weekly leftist newspaper Freitag: sensitive language does not make discrimination disappear. But to refuse to make any effort for inclusive writing disregards marginalized people’s realities. Our ongoing search for better inclusive expressions is tiring, but not for nothing. It helps remind us that the problem still exists.
Nancy Waldmann works for the German daily newspaper Märkische Oderzeitung in Frankfurt (Oder) and often reports from the Polish neighbouring region. She is part of the Frankfurt Słubice Pride organizer team.
Nancy Waldmann works for the German daily newspaper Märkische Oderzeitung in Frankfurt (Oder) and often reports from the Polish neighbouring region. She is part of the Frankfurt Słubice Pride organizer team.
🇺🇦 To joke or not to joke, is that really the question?
“Manager-ka? Lol. Manager-inja! Manager-ologinja! Manager-iha! Manager-kinja! Manager-kesa! Manager-itskinja!” A typical reaction to feminitives in Ukraine: some people distort words by adding ridiculous  suffixes when a woman wants to be referred to by a feminine form. Credits: Zhenya Oliynyk (povaha.org.ua)
“Manager-ka? Lol. Manager-inja! Manager-ologinja! Manager-iha! Manager-kinja! Manager-kesa! Manager-itskinja!” A typical reaction to feminitives in Ukraine: some people distort words by adding ridiculous suffixes when a woman wants to be referred to by a feminine form. Credits: Zhenya Oliynyk (povaha.org.ua)
“Feminitives? Ha-ha, so funny”! “Ridiculous”! “Unnatural!” If you live in Ukraine and use feminitive word forms to refer to a female professional — get ready to become a target of a bunch of cringe-y puns.
In May 2019, the Ukrainian government adopted a new spelling which, among many other things, “legalized” feminitives. They were never forbidden, but now they are officially approved.
In fact, the new spelling is not even that new. It refers back to the original Ukrainian rules of 1928. Feminitives are also not a revolution — we can find examples in books written as early as the 11th and 12th centuries, according to linguists. One historical dictionary of “feminitives in the Ukrainian language” contains 8,000 of these words. 
According to Ukrainian language spelling rules, there are at least six suffixes that turn a masculine form into feminine. Having a lot of female students, teachers, poets or waiters we get used to their feminine forms. Often, we don’t even notice that we’re using feminitives. But once we’re talking about ministers, professors, engineers, directors or even managers — male-dominated fields — it causes problems. 
Not knowing how to create a correct feminitive, people start mocking them. They invent new words, making them sound funny or even humiliating, like the non-existing “менеджеркиця” from the comic above. It means “manager kitten”. They laugh over and over again. Well, what are they actually laughing at? A female manager or a word describing one? 
Kateryna Kovalenko is a Ukrainian journalist covering social issues. Currently based in Berlin. Uses feminitives in everyday life.
Kateryna Kovalenko is a Ukrainian journalist covering social issues. Currently based in Berlin. Uses feminitives in everyday life.
🇵🇱 1 question to... Marcin Kędzierski
Marcin Kędzierski is a chief expert at the Centre for Analysis of the Jagiellonian Club, a conservative think tank based in Cracow. Photo: private.
Marcin Kędzierski is a chief expert at the Centre for Analysis of the Jagiellonian Club, a conservative think tank based in Cracow. Photo: private.
Mr. Kędzierski, is this an outcome of the popularity of the Women’s strikes and what role do language issues play in this dispute?
Political polarization among the youth results from global cultural changes, but also economic transformation. In the 90s, young Poles were raised by their mothers, as their fathers had to work several jobs in the face of the economic crisis. That’s why girls learned to be resourceful and to manage without men.
Boys, on the other hand, have been statistically much less educated and often academically excluded, which, in turn, makes them feel threatened by this emancipation of women. They are not attractive partners for them anymore, and cannot find their place in the modern world.
Last year’s Women’s Strike only highlighted these tendencies, which we have been observing for several years now. Young men are faced with a choice: join the protest so as not to deprive themselves of the possibility of contact with young women, or radically reject it, thus joining the narrative of the so-called incels.
In turn, language issues are secondary to the dispute over women’s emancipation. The use of feminitives, i.e. writing “eksperci i ekspertki” (male experts and female experts) instead of “eksperci” (in the plural masculine personal gender form traditionally used for both men and women) is not a hot issue anymore. This so-called gendered language is becoming mainstream in the Polish public debate and, in my opinion, in a few years, it will cease to be a subject of dispute and controversial issue even for conservative circles. 
It is the media and academia that shape the public debate, and liberal views dominate here, despite the right-wing in power. Opponents of gender-inclusive language will ghettoize, and the rest of society will consider it a harmless quirk.
Kaja Puto is a Warsaw-based freelance journalist with a focus on Eastern Europe. Until today, her parents call her "Bolek" (from the cartoon "Bolek i Lolek") because she was a rascal kid and "behaved like a boy."
Kaja Puto is a Warsaw-based freelance journalist with a focus on Eastern Europe. Until today, her parents call her "Bolek" (from the cartoon "Bolek i Lolek") because she was a rascal kid and "behaved like a boy."
5 gender-inclusive words Europeans fight about
1. Bürger*innenmeister*in = mayor (double female form)
The real problem behind the German word for ‘mayor’ can be revealed through a simple Google search: 91 percent of mayors in Germany are men.
The real problem behind the German word for ‘mayor’ can be revealed through a simple Google search: 91 percent of mayors in Germany are men.
German is a language composed of many compound words, such as ‘Bürgermeister’ (mayor), which combines the German words for ‘citizen’ and ‘master’ — both animated male nouns.
“But how can we structure them properly in a gender-inclusive form?” The Green Berlin local politician, Gollaleh Ahmadi, asked in 2019 on Twitter, complaining about the male dominance in the town hall of her district.
“Bürger*innenmeister*in” Her party colleague, Renate Künast, answered. The thread entered political right groups on social media and caused a shitstorm. The term with two asterisks was also perceived among the politically moderate as an example of  “absurd excesses” for gender-sensitive language.
2. “Членкиня” (“Chlenkynia”) = group member (female form)
Photo: Yulii Kudlanyk, БЖ, www.bzh.life/ua
Photo: Yulii Kudlanyk, БЖ, www.bzh.life/ua
A participant at the “Women’s march” in Kyiv came with a sign that read: “Better членкиня (female member) than рабиня (a slave),” demanding respect for women and feminitives. The word “членкиня” (“chlenkynia”) is the most controversial in the Ukrainian language, despite having been created by official spelling rules. Its masculine form “член” (“chlen”) can mean two things: “group member” or  “penis”. The feminine form often causes laughter.
3.  “Vozačica” = driver (female form) 
 “Come, daughter, see how it is”. Photo: facebook.com/svesutovjeshtice
“Come, daughter, see how it is”. Photo: facebook.com/svesutovjeshtice
In Serbian, ‘vozač’ is the official word for ‘driver,’ though it’s in the masculine form (It’s the same in Serbo-Croatian). “Vozačica” is the feminine version, but opponents to gender-sensitive language say it sounds “weird.” They consider it to be a mere form of political correctness. For them, using the masculine gender is already neutral, and they believe that the use of feminine forms in job titles leads to the creation of “impossible” words, because they either sound “clumsy” or “taken” (already meaning something else). Such words lead to non-communication, they say. 
4. Osoby z macicami = people with uteruses
"Free, safe and legal abortion on demand for all people with uteruses". Women’s Strike in Cracow, January 29, 2021. Photo: Anna Kaczmarz.
"Free, safe and legal abortion on demand for all people with uteruses". Women’s Strike in Cracow, January 29, 2021. Photo: Anna Kaczmarz.
At the turn of 2020 and 2021, thousands of Poles took to the streets protesting against the total abortion ban (what was commonly called “Women’s Strike”). LGBT+ activists joined the protests in an attempt to draw attention to the fact that reproductive rights apply not only to cis women, but also to trans men and non-binary people (i.e. “people with uteruses”). The right-wing media ridiculed the term and accused LGBT+ activists of allegedly trying to eliminate the word “woman” from the Polish language.
5. Direttore / Direttrice d’orchestra = Orchestra conductor
Beatrice Venezi at the Sanremo festival, March 6, 2021. Screenshot: Giornale di Sicilia.
Beatrice Venezi at the Sanremo festival, March 6, 2021. Screenshot: Giornale di Sicilia.
In Italian, when you refer to a male orchestra leader, you call him “direttore d’orchestra.” The female version is “direttrice d'orchestra.” Beatrice Venezi, a famous “direttrice,” was invited to Sanremo, Italy’s most popular song contest that is broadcasted annually on a public TV channel, Rai. This year, Venezi sparked debate because she insisted on being called “direttore.”
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