Since joining ld4all, I’ve started learning some languages for fun and out of interest, and the “genderedness” of many languages struck me.
(Tl;dr, genders in languages kind of bother me. I wonder if it subtly influences sexism and I wonder how non-binary people deal with all the importance put on gender.)
The first thing that stood out was grammatical gender, something absent in any of the languages I already knew (e.g. English). I first encountered this when learning Spanish and it was a big culture shock, but easy enough to get accustomed to. I did wonder why things like ties and razors were feminine when traditionally used by males, but it’s easy enough to accept as a concept separate from actual gender.
Imbalance in gender rules
What kind of bothered me was how some rules were imbalanced, usually placing more distinction on masculine gendered nouns.
In Chinese, for example, there are three different terms for uncle, but only two for aunt. Father’s-side uncles are differentiated between those older than the father and those younger the ones father, something not done for mother’s-side uncles or aunts for either side.
In Polish, masculine genders are divided into masculine personal (people), masculine animate (e.g. animals), and masculine inanimate (objects). For feminine nouns, there’s only one group. Polish also has two words for they, one which is used for any group which includes at least one male, and another for any group with no male (i.e. Groups with only female and/or neuter). Other languages also have similar concepts of “they”. I found this kind of insulting to women, as if saying there was no distinction between women and animals or objects.
Again, I guess it’s easy enough to accept as a separate concept from actual gender, but still it kind of bothers me. I also wonder if it subtly affects the way people think regarding actual genders.
Third, I was bothered with gender distinction, something which does exist in English, with stuff like actor vs actress, and most prominent, he/she pronouns. It makes me kind of uncomfortable why different terms have to be used. Especially when using the female terms, it feels unnatural, like the term was invented for the sole purpose of giving distinction that this person is a female.
It surprised me to realize that English was actually the least gendered compared to other European languages. Learning that a simple phrase like “I’m tired” had to be said differently if you were a man vs if you were a woman struck me to the point of feeling discouraged about continuing to learn the language. Even Asian languages like Japanese or Korean have some aspects like this, though I don’t know yet to what extent. It makes me wonder how non-binary people deal with everyday speaking. Or do they just naturally choose one? Does it work the same as English in that the masculine term becomes the default?