Don't you like people who use sexist language
Germany is obsessed with genitals : Gender only makes discrimination worse
A few weeks ago I was talking to a fellow journalist and said, "I, as a writer ..." The journalist interrupted me - "Writer". Then it came back to me. I'm not a writer, I'm a woman. It may not be meant like that, but that's what it feels like. Some time before that I was a guest on a “Star Trek” podcast and was announced as a “guest”.
Suddenly I wondered if I was invited because I've watched more Star Trek than anyone who doesn't live in their mother's basement, or because I look like someone who has a vagina (I have, more on that later). That is also well-intentioned, but it doesn't feel good. In such situations I feel reduced to my gender. I feel this way because, in fact, it is.
By the way, I would like to start this article without referring to my gender several times, that is none of their business. I would like to start it with rational arguments against gender. But if I did, I would be immediately read as an anti-feminist and those for whom I write this, the good, enlightened justice-lovers, would stop reading.
Only those who are against gender in any case would read on, which in Germany usually means: peeky conservatives of the world. The vocal arguments against gendering mostly come from the infamous old white men who can't even imagine the experience of marginalized people. Defenders of gender do not take such arguments seriously because the makers of such arguments lack the crucial experience of becoming marginalized.
Wrong arguments against gender
I don't belong to this group. In order to live a life free of discrimination, I made a few wrong decisions, for example I should have just left being a woman and Jewish. I don't gender, I don't want to be gendered precisely because I know what discrimination feels like.
And I know that most of the arguments against gendering are wrong. For example, it is wrong to claim that words like students cannot be pronounced. Anyone who can pronounce “theater” correctly, with a glottal pause, ie “The-short pause-ater” and not of “Thejater”, can also pronounce “student-short pause-women”. It is also wrong that gendering is not nice.
Anyone who thinks that beauty is more important than justice in interpersonal communication will not save a drowning person either, because there are ugly water stains on the yacht deck. Most wrongly, that the German language has to be protected from change somehow. Please only write all arguments of this kind in Old High German.
Basically there is only one really good argument against gender: Unfortunately, it's sexist. I say unfortunately, because people, the genders are fundamentally sympathetic. Those who change usually do so to point out linguistic and social injustices. Gender is a sexist practice that aims to combat sexism.
Vice-European champion in women-worse-pay
I've never felt comfortable with German gender, but that it was a logical gender problem only became clear to me when I was doing my doctorate in England and got to know a different feminism there. It struck me for the first time when a professor asked me whether we in Germany really call Angela Merkel “Chancellor” and whether the German feminists would do nothing about it.
Anyone who, like me, was socialized in Germany and with German feminism must find this statement strange. The implementation of “gender-equitable” language sometimes seems to be the actual core task of feminism in this country. At least this is where modern German feminism has achieved its greatest successes: It may be that the gender pay gap has remained fairly constant at around 20 percent for 25 years - Germany is the European championship winner in women paying less, only Estonia is worse. After all, the Saxon Ministry of Justice is now gendered.
What the professor meant was simply this: Are the German feminists not doing anything about the fact that there are different word forms for men and women, that is, that men and women are treated differently in terms of language? At that time I explained to the professor that it was about visualization. That many people have the image of a man in mind when they hear job titles and that we in Germany use feminine word forms - especially in job advertisements or official texts - to make it clear that the job is also carried out by women.
There is only one problem with this explanation: the standard concept of most job titles is not just that of a man, but that of a white, Christian, straight man. So if a word form is needed for female professionals, isn't there just as much a need for a word form for Jewish, black or gay professionals with disabilities? If it is important to use a word that contains the two pieces of information “Federal Chancellor” and “Woman” or “Writer” and “Woman”, wouldn't it be just as correct to include the word “Jewish” in the word?
Not all identity categories are equally important
Why does the writer Jew or Schwarzgast feel so damn wrong when the writer and guest in public discourse should not only be okay, but also anti-discriminatory. The English professor saw in German gender that we can only recognize if we make the analogy with another description of identity: discrimination.
When we gender in German, we are saying: This information is so important that it must always be included. And we say: Only this information must always be included. It is correct to refer to all other identity categories only when they are relevant, only gender is always shown, so we make it the most important identity category.
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It is (today) a matter of course that the word teachers 'room or writers' association also means Jewish teachers and gay writers, without us talking about the writer * gay association or the teacher * jew room, only female teachers and writers should be mentioned separately. When we gender, we are saying that this information must never be left unsaid.
A Turkish, disabled, gay author, teacher or real estate agent can sometimes just be someone who writes books, trains children or sells moldy hardware store items as collector's items. Only a woman can never get rid of being a woman. And when she does call herself a writer, a colleague reminds her. He reminds her that because of her gender she can never be a writer, but always only a writer, a derivative, a form that needs a basic form in order to exist at all.
When it doesn't make me sad, I can discover a certain sense of humor in how obsessed Germany is with genitals. Because, with a few exceptions, gender is about genitals, not necessarily those we see but those we think are there. If it were a question of gender identities beyond physical characteristics, we could not just go on about it, but would first have to ask about a gender. But anyone who is not explicitly read as a trans person is not asked, but gendered.
In telephone interviews where the other person does not see me, I am gendered, not because my voice is performatively feminine, but because it sounds biologically feminine. Even in a suit, also without make-up, even with a bald head, I was gendered, because it is primarily about the imagined gender in the biological sense, i.e. genitals.
Anyone who turns my “writer” into a “writer” can also shout “vagina”! ”. That has the same informational value, but would be funnier and more sincere and I would much prefer it. That German gender alienates British feminists is not surprising. Because while British news of Theresa May or Margaret Thatcher simply spoke as the asexual Prime Minister, the Germans are forced to point out the shape of the ruling genitals whenever we speak of Dr. Merkel.
The only way out of being a linguist is to go abroad, for me it was Great Britain. Because British feminism has chosen the opposite extreme to the problem of the female job title. The English thought is simply this: The way to equality is equality. Anyone who wants men and women to be treated equally has to treat them equally and that means naming them the same.
In the Guardian, the generic masculine is progressive
At the time when German magazines, especially the more left-progressive ones, began to write about “actors” instead of “actors”, the “Guardian” decided - the English one Newspaper of the feminist left - only to allow the word "Actor" and to delete "Actress".
To this day, in their style guidelines, as do many other publications, they state that "actress" just like authoress, comedienne, manageress, lady doctor, paint nurse and similar terms come from a time when professions were largely open to a single gender (mostly male). And that these gendered job titles should no longer be used today, when the professions are open to all genders.
To put it another way: While the Germans have opted for permanent naming of gender differences, the British have chosen to avoid displaying gender as much as possible. To do this, with typical British pragmatism, they have chosen the form that their language suggests as generic anyway. In English, just like in German, this form is identical to the masculine form; in German it is critically referred to as a “generic masculine”.
The apparent linguistic masculinity of generic job titles raises a chicken-and-egg problem: Are the job titles inherently masculine and therefore need a parallel feminine form, or are they inherently generic and only appear masculine because historically they were only allowed to be carried out by men?
Many young people only know one female chancellor
From an English perspective, the latter is the case. The word "Prime Minister" de facto describes a man for most of English history, simply because women were neither allowed to vote nor to be elected. The word was masculine not because it is linguistically masculine, but because in reality it was masculine.
The English solution to this problem is not to introduce a feminine form, although "Prime Ministress" would certainly work, but to choose a woman. With the introduction of universal suffrage in 1928 and at the latest from 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, the word "Prime Minister" became in fact generic, could designate men and women and becomes more and more generic with every female PM, with a few dozen female ones for full equality "Prime Ministers" are missing.
Just as the word "US President" could only refer to whites by law for the first centuries of American history and in fact only refer to white men until 2008. Reality, that is Barack Obama, has changed the language.
Obama has added his own identity to the meaning of the word "US President". Specifically, Obama's presidency means that there are young people who when they hear the word president think of a black man first, because the president they grew up with was black. Just like there are people to this day whose first association when they hear "Prime Minister" is a woman, simply because that woman, Margaret Thatcher, burned herself into the collective mind during her eleven years as prime minister like no other post-war prime minister .
Does the word “woman” discriminate against unmarried people?
If Germany had taken the Anglo-Saxon path of gender equality, there would be six-year-old children in 2020 for whom the word Federal Chancellor is primarily a female, because they have never seen a man be Federal Chancellor. By using the two different words "Federal Chancellor" and "Federal Chancellor" we have useless this change in language.
And that although we do believe in the possibility of such change, because we have already used it successfully elsewhere with the aim of greater justice. When the English stopped making a linguistic difference between actor and actress to do, the Germans stopped distinguishing between “woman” and “fräulein”.
Instead of referring to unmarried women as “Miss” and only married women as “Woman”, it became common to refer to all women as “Woman”. Here, too, one could have argued that this makes the married woman the standard and discriminates against the unmarried.
Women can still become people
Almost fifty years later we know that the opposite has happened: by using the word woman regardless of marital status, we have quite successfully separated it from the meaning of “married”. There are still unmarried women, and they are mostly not at all happy to be called fräulein. Of course there are arguments against the generic masculine term. The generic masculine is historically masculine, this history of language cannot be changed. Just as you can't change the fact that women weren't allowed to vote until 1918. But you can shift meanings.
In a world in which “Fräuleins” became “Women” within a few decades, women can still become people. People who write books, we then call them writers, people who rule, we then call them Federal Chancellor, people who are guests, we then call them guests. I would love to live in this world.
Dr. Nele Pollatschek lives as a writer in Berlin. Most recently she published “Dear Oxbridge: Love Letter to England” on Galiani. This text is based on the chapter “They: Gendern auf Englisch”.
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