French Accept their Feminine Side

Gold-leafed sculpture of Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans, is located in the French Quarter of New Orleans
French heroine, Joan of Arc

The use of the feminine form of job titles has finally been accepted by members of the Académie Française, the guardians of the French language.

The Academy’s first online dictionary includes “feminized” versions of occupations alongside the longstanding masculine nouns, such as professeure for a female teacher or ingénieur for a female engineer

Created in 1635 to “fix the French language, giving it rules, rendering it pure and comprehensible by all,” the Academy had long-resisted the change, arguing repeatedly that to add an “e” to such male titles would “end up with proposals that are contrary to the spirit of the language.”

When Hélène Carrère d’Encausse became the Academy’s first female perpetual secretary in 1999 and announced she would be referred to as Madame le secrétaire perpetuel, in the masculine form and that she opposed la ministre (a female minister), preferring Madame le minister, there seemed little chance of change.

The argument was that gender had nothing to do with job title. However, it appears that the staunchly conservative watchdogs have accepted the need to change with the times, and the growing use of feminine job titles in daily speech. They now say that their previous reluctance was primarily because the wrong feminine versions were being used.

Linguist Bernard Cerquiglini says that the change came because “their model no longer holds up.” He explained to L’Express, “The word autrice (a female author) for example isn’t a neologism, it’s been around since the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 17th century that women began to be excluded from certain occupations and were relegated to the kitchen. I think that many members of the Academy understood that they could not stick by a modus operandi that is in fact misogynistic”.

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