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.