French Genders Get Political

The French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, has banned “inclusive writing” in official texts, clamping down on attempts to make the French language more female-friendly. Moves to end the linguistic dominance of the masculine over the feminine have caused outrage in France, as reported last month (“French in ‘Mortal Danger’ of Gender Neutrality,” Nov. 17).At the heart of the debate is the middot, short for middle dot, or interpunct, which is a period inserted into a word to include both the masculine and feminine plural forms, similar in concept to the use of Latinx in the U.S. to include Latinas and Latinos equally. This form of “inclusive writing” is a new concept in France that some feminist activists hope will counter “implicit male domination in the French language,” fixing the centuries-old grammatical rule requiring the masculine gender take precedence over the feminine in plurals.As an example, the French word for a mixed-gender group of students has been written in the masculine plural form étudiants, even if there are more female students than male, rather than with the feminine plural, étudiantes. Using inclusive writing, the word would be written as étudiant·e·s.In a memo to his ministers, Philippe said: “The masculine [form] is a neutral form which should be used for terms liable to apply to women.” Hoping to avoid confusion in legally binding texts, he demanded government ministries avoid inclusive writing, “notably for reasons of intelligibility and clarity.”The ministers were also instructed to ensure the traditional form be used in all public services under their authority. The prime minister’s office said the memo was intended to “end the controversy” but the government was still “resolutely committed to strengthening equality between women and men.”France’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, commented, saying French “should not be exploited for fighting battles, no matter how legitimate they are.”
 

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