Hello dear Reader and welcome to our first ever guest article! We have recently opened this platform for other like-minded people to share their thoughts, recommendations and tips. We thought it would be a good idea to bring other perspectives and stories in here, that we might have not written or touched on otherwise.
This post is written by Charlotte – our lovely guest that we always see working on her laptop, with an americano (or two) and invisible thought bubbles around. WE SEE YOU thinking, Charlotte:) I (Marika) loved her idea to write on gender-inclusive language and I’m very excited for you to read it. (I secretly loved all the editing, too) Enjoy!
Why I believe in gendered language (by Charlotte)
It has been discussed over and over again and caused more than one discussion at so many family dinner tables. There have been books and studies published and yet, people still don’t believe that it makes a difference. Which is why I have picked it to be my first contribution to Plant Base blog. Because it is worth discussing again and again and again. Gendered language. Or rather, an inclusive language that aims to include as many beings as possible.
I struggled with it for a very long time. Especially in the German language, I simply refused to believe in it. I wanted to be part of the “general” term and not need any suffix to include me as a woman. I had to learn, though, that the masculine form of a word does not mean any females…and let alone anyone else.
A term never simply describes a profession neutrally. In German most words have a male and a female version, which has a feminized suffix (-in) pointing towards the described gender. The male term is also considered the general one. In English, there are few examples like actor/actress and most words have a “neutral” form, that does not point out a gender. There is also only one article (a/an and its definite form the) that doesn’t divide words into their grammatical gender as does German with three articles. And still, most of these words evoke the image of men. When speaking about womxn, we need to point out: female writer, female baker, female boss. In German we emphasize the suffix -in excessively. There is no need to point out someone’s maleness when speaking about profession (male writer? male baker? male boss?). And then: what about those writers, bakers or bosses that don’t identify neither as (only) male nor (only) female?
We are stuck in a binary system that makes us identify and categorize with either one thing or another. For many people, though, neither of these groups seem accurate. Too many of us cannot identify with the norms society and language confronts us with. Some of those people have the problem of being described as the weaker sex, some of them don’t get described at all, and there are probably also those, who are at the intersection of those two issues. That creates a whole new level of conflict when using a language. Because of course, everyone should be included – as a writer, baker, boss or anything. No matter if they’re male, female, gender fluid or non-binary.
And then, there are pronouns – little words that exclude many people (not only womxn) while they could actually offer the opportunity to include more. Generally perceived, there are only three options, in English and German alike: he, she, it. Male, female or neutral. Deciding on a pronoun for someone immediately fixes their identity. An identity that must meet societal norms of male, female and neutral.
In English, it is a tiny bit easier to avoid immediate exclusion through pronouns. One can simply use they. Or one. Both options are nonexistent in the German language – they is the same word as she and one sounds like man, making it significantly harder to include.
This binary system we are stuck in cuts off the gender spectrum before it even truly begins. A way to open up to identities beyond that system could be to include one’s pronouns in introductions, normalizing the spectrum and enabling choice over relying on stereotypical normative assumptions. In my case that would be „My name is Charlotte, I use she/her“.
There’ve been efforts to update the language and widen the spectrum with more choice. Some examples are: ze/hir, co/cos, or simply using one’s name instead. So: why don’t we all start asking which pronouns someone prefers?
Because the language we use has developed within a male supremacy, it naturally tends towards patriarchal needs. It has not been built to include many more. And it’s those ‘many more’ that make up this beautifully diverse world. If we want to jolt the system and change reality we must therefore start with the language that we use to describe it. Because the truth is: language forms reality. Language is reality. In the end, language is what constructs reality. And it therefore has the power to change it. Changing the way we speak will change the way we think.
And making that effort is worth it. Until we really are all meant by everyday language, we need to find ways to point out that we are not yet. By including the individuality of identity into our everyday language, we help building an inclusive language, that goes way further than just a gender-inclusive language.
Maybe some day we can find words that include us all equally. Until then we need to keep pointing out that we are not. Even if that might seem inconvenient. And if we find along the way, that using all those many options simultaneously doesn’t only help include all those many individuals making life exciting, but also leads to a richer, more variable way of expressing ourselves, we might even win something more.
Especially in these strange times it seems more important than ever to include everyone while forming a world of justice, equality and understanding. On all levels. Start the change in the language you use and begin to change the world with it.
About the author
Charlotte – writer, aspiring theatre director, pisces, cat person & vegetarian, who found a great source of caffeine halfway between home and her theatre – in Plant Base. I believe that intersectional feminism, equality and love are the future and am excited to join this open dialogue to get closer towards that utopia.