Gender Issues in the Spanish Language
I have on occasion used the following story to remind my students of the importance of gender related grammatical elements in Spanish, especially for English speakers, who don’t have this concept in their language:
A father is travelling on a motorbike with his 10-year-old son on the back. It’s a snowy night and they’re going quite fast. The motorbike loses control and crashes into a tree. The father dies and the child is very badly injured. The emergency services take him to the closest hospital by ambulance. They must operate immediately. They tell the surgeon on duty, who then enters the operating room and on seeing the child says: “I’m don’t feel able to operate on this child, he’s my son”.
I always ask my students what’s happening…wasn’t the father dead? A bright student always answers that the surgeon is HIS MOTHER!
Gender in the Spanish language brings up a few questions which for a long time have been taken as “normal” (i.e. they follow the rule), but with the fortunate evolution of society and the promotion of equality between men and women practically everywhere, these rules have become outdated.
Sexism in Language
I saw on the news last night that the RAE (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) was going to tackle the issue of sexism in the language.
Many think the difference in grammatical gender elements has nothing to do with differences in biological sexes, and they’re not wrong. But there are also others that believe in getting rid of these out of date linguistic peculiarities, consistent with the language’s mechanisms of adaptation and change.
Many non-sexist language guides have been published, which provide advice such as the use of collective nouns (profesorado) to avoid using the traditional generic masculine noun when referring to groups of male and female teachers (profesores vs. profesoras); they also suggest for example substituting, el interesado for la persona interesada; the use of synonyms like la juventud instead of los jóvenes. Then there’s the “fixation” of de-doubling: “Señoras y señores, diputados y diputadas…” which can sometimes result in laughable mistakes, like when a member of parliament said “miembros y miembras del Parlamento”.
The influx of social networks and electronic gadgets are providing impressive solutions: the @ sign has the advantage of looking like an A surrounded by an O, i.e. killing two birds with one stone – querid@s amig@s.
Really it’s a tricky issue that we’ll have to resolve in accordance with how society develops.
Let’s quickly take a look at hombría (manliness), la caballerosidad (gentlemanliness), el hombre de bien (an honorable man)… and try to find their female equivalent… (we’ll need to look a lot). Let’s not forget that zorro isn’t that same as a zorra, and while gallo means proud or tough, gallina means cowardly or scared.
Why is the asistente or secretario a worker who supports the CEO in his work, while an asistenta cleans apartments and a secretaria an employee in charge of just making coffee? A solterón is a lucky fifty-something, but a solterona is an old lady that nobody wants to marry.
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