Post by Hibou Post by Quinn C Post by Hibou
In French, the trend is the opposite. They are busy inventing and
refurbishing female versions of names - a présidente of a court,
parliament, or country is no longer the wife of a président, for
instance, but holds office in her own right.
The difference is that in French (or German), the terms intended to be
non-gendered usually have masculine grammatical gender and therefore are
the same as the terms for an explicitly male exemplar. This makes for an
asymmetry: male presidents are "standard" presidents, whereas explicitly
female ones are "non-standard".
As I carefully pointed out, sex and grammatical gender are not at all
the same thing. Une sentinelle (a sentinel) is usually a man. Une
vedette (a star) is often a man, so is une célébrité.
I've had this discussion a million times. I know my way around it, and
know to ignore what's irrelevant. And I didn't want to drag it into the
English group in its full breadth. But fine ... (please ignore unless
interested in certain other languages.)
I know all the ins and outs of it in German, so that's what I'll be
describing. I believe French is mostly the same, but some details may
First, words for inanimate objects can have any grammatical gender. In
that case, that has no semantic implication whatsoever, so it has no
bearing on gender equality. (Ex: Das Messer, die Gabel, der Löffel)
Second, there are words that are applied to male and female persons (or
animals) without any change. Those can have any grammatical gender, but
since they treat people of all genders equally, they cause no
misgivings. (Ex: Das Kind, der Gast, die Geisel - your examples
Third, there are words that are only used for people of one specific
gender or animals of one specific sex (father, mother, sister, brother;
bull, cow, hen, cock ...). Occasionally, in German, these can be neuter
(Mädchen), but otherwise, they always have the grammatical gender
corresponding to the gender of the person or sex of the animal named.
This shows that when it comes to animate objects, grammatical gender is
not unrelated to biological sex or social gender.
Lastly, there are terms that exist in two variants, a male and a female
one. That's the only kind that causes concern.
With few exceptions, the female version is derived from the male version
by adding a suffix. That makes the male version unmarked and the female
Furthermore, the male version is also traditionally used as
That creates the asymmetry I was pointing to: the male version appears
to be the basic, default, normal case, the female one the special case,
the exception. Also, experiments often show that when people hear the
"neutral" form, they tend to picture a man more often than a woman.
One of my favorite solutions in German is to create an explicitly male
suffix, so that the non-suffixed form can be unmistakably neutral, and
symmetry is ensured.
I haven't thought about whether that could work in French.
Post by Hibou
In English, the trend is to remove the sex of the person from the term
used to describe them; in French, it is to add it in, to make it
explicit. Bizarrely, these opposed approaches are both thought to
Post by Quinn C
whereas in English, there is no grammatical gender to contend with.
There is some - in personal pronouns, for instance, and in paired terms
such as 'actor' and 'actress'.
A few remnants to get rid of.
My pronouns are they/them
(or other gender-neutral ones)