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In the French language, steps forward and back for women -The Asian Age


The fight to make the French language kinder to women took steps forward, and back, this week.Warning that the well-being of France and its future are at stake, the government banned the use in schools of a method increasingly used by some French speakers to make the language more inclusive by feminizing some words.

Specifically, the education minister's decree targets what is arguably the most contested and politicized letter in the French language - "e." Simply put, "e" is the language's feminine letter, used in feminine nouns and their adjectives and, sometimes, when conjugating verbs.

But proponents of women's rights are also increasingly adding "e" to words that normally wouldn't have included that letter, in a conscious - and divisive - effort to make women more visible. Take the generic French word for leaders - "dirigeants" - for example. For some, that masculine spelling suggests that they are generally men and makes women leaders invisible, because it lacks a feminine "e" toward the end.

For proponents of inclusive writing, a more gender-equal spelling is "dirigeant·es," inserting the extra "e," preceded by a middle dot, to make clear that leaders can be of both sexes. Likewise, they might write "les élu·es" - instead of the generic masculine "élus" - for the holders of elected office, again to highlight that women are elected, too. Or they might use "les idiot·es," instead of the usual generic masculine "les idiots," to acknowledge that stupidity isn't the exclusive preserve of men.

Proponents and opponents sometimes split down political lines. France's conservative Republicans party ses " élus"; the left-wing France Unbowed tends toward " élu · es.""It's a fight to make women visible in the language," said Laurence Rossignol, a Socialist senator who uses the feminizing extra "·e."

---AP, Le Pecq