Over-gendering

Modern English is increasingly gender-neutral. Efforts to render forms of address such as “mw. mr.” too literally come out as confusing or plain laughable. Professions and roles in which the person’s gender is irrelevant don’t need to be gendered.

When giving her name and being asked “Is that Miss or Mrs?”, one friend of mine used to take great delight in replying, “Doctor, actually.”

  • If you just address someone as “Prof.” or “Dr”, you can’t tell their gender. True. So what?
  • ln job titles and functions, if the woman is doing the same job, it gets the same name: manageress, directrice and similar should be consigned to the dustbin; actor rather than actress is becoming widespread.
  • Even when it’s a man, you can use chair rather than chairman for a voorzitter and spokesperson for a persvoorlichter or woordvoerder.
  • Unless there’s a good reason, deliberately inserting the gender, e.g. female singer or woman artist as the translation of “zangeres” or “kunstenares” is even less helpful.
  • I’ve seen a feminine forms get botched on occasion too. A governess is a private tutor, not a female governor; a directrix is a mathematical function, not a female director.

It’s a recurring issue in which literal translations and guesswork can mangle the meanings, or may even be deemed offensive by those who’ve had to fight for equality.

Prevalence: medium. It’s quite a persistent issue because the Dutch authors are understandably trying to be correct and polite, as they see it.
Frequency: medium. In something like a collaborative paper, it can be an issue for each and every author. Otherwise it’s just something to keep an eye on when addressing a letter or signing off.
Native: no. The scope for confusion and annoyance proves it.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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