As you could see from our last newsletter, we used the generic feminine instead of the gender asterisk. The reason for our use of the generic feminine is an awareness challenge initiated by student representatives. By using the generic feminine, we want to send a signal that the way we speak (and write) has an impact and that different groups feel addressed by different terms – or not. Especially since May is the month of several action days on diversity and inclusion (17.05.2021 the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia and 18.05.2021 the German Diversity Day), we decided to make May Gender Sensitive Language Awareness Month.
If you feel disturbed by the generic feminine, you should perhaps check your own privileges and ask yourself how people feel who are normally never “mentioned”. After all, the generic masculine is no different than the generic feminine, except that it identifies men as a privileged group in the first place. We are aware that the generic feminine is just the other extreme, but we just want to show that it does make a difference how you formulate gender-specific language. Just as people can feel excluded by the generic feminine, the generic masculine also excludes people who do not identify as male.
In a nutshell: If you are a male and you don’t feel included here, although you are included, then it is the same phenomenon that non-male persons are exposed to day after day.
The generic masculine is a linguistic phenomenon in some languages and refers allegedly to a gender-neutral use of masculine nouns. For example, while referring to yourself as an actress of a group of actors. “Actors” is used as generic masculine in this example and shall include non-male acting persons.
If you are interested in the exact effects of the generic masculine, you can also read more in this study, which shows that there is a pro-male bias when using the generic masculine.
You want to take part in our Awareness Challenge? While writing German emails use the generic feminine and add this text at the end: “Wenn Sie das generische Femininum stört, dann sollten Sie sich definitiv über die Verwendung des generischen Maskulinums Gedanken machen. Sprache beeinflusst!” (If the generic feminine bothers you, then you should definitely think about using the generic masculine. Language influences!)We are curious to see if we can achieve more awareness for gender-equal language through this!