« Quick to announce, slow to deliver | Main | Timothy Kirkhope calls on Gordon Brown to back the scrapping of the Strasbourg chamber »

European Parliamentarians told to use "gender-neutral language"

Here's something you'll like.

The European Parliament (which I visited with my colleage Jonathan Isaby this week; more later) has announced its intention to use gender-neutral language. Harald Romer, Secretary-General of the European Parliament, writes:

"The European Parliament is committed to using gender-neutral language in its publications and communications and is now the first of the institutions to provide language-specific guidance on gender-neutral language in all the Community's working languages. Drawn up by a working group under the auspices of Parliament's High-Level Group on Gender Equality, these guidelines were the fruit of long and close collaboration among the relevant linguistic services and provide suggestions and examples for each specific working language


I now invite all colleagues to read the guidelines in their working languages and apply them in all parliamentary publications and written communications."

An immense effort has been made to avoid offence, and it would be childish to pour scorn on it by highlighting some of the more absurd examples.

These are some of the more absurd examples:

'Synthetic artificial' as an alternative to 'man-made';

"Omit the pronoun altogether' ('an official's salary is dependant on his length of service')";

If it's impossible to avoid then "use 'he or she', but do so sparingly and avoid repeating it more than once in the same sentence.";

'Business person', rather than businessman;

"'Chairperson' should be avoided, as the tendency has been to use it only when referring to women. 'Chair' should be used consistently for both sexes";

'Midwife' "for both sexes; there is no accepted alternative for male midwives".

The guidance generously acknowledges that "the major cultural differences in this area between different European languages" have the impact of making it "impossible to harmonise usage fully within the European Parliament". That will come as a relief to French and German speakers, who assign genders to inanimate objects.

One of the charming gals in East Midlands MEP Roger Helmer's office forwarded me a copy of his letter to Hans-Gert Pottering MEP, the President of the European Parliament:

"Dear Hans-Gert,

Gender-Neutral language
I have just had an opportunity to look at the booklet "Gender-Neutral language in the European parliament", distributed by Harold Romer in what seems to be his final message of insult and defiance to MEPs before his recent and unlamented departure.
The booklet starts from the preposterous proposition that "in most contexts a person's sex is -- or should be -- irrelevant".  This is an extraordinary piece of nonsense, even by the parliament's standards.  In fact a person's sex is absolutely fundamental to their sense of identity.  It is an essential part of who they are, how they wish to be characterised, and how they relate to other people.
Neither men nor women in the real world seek to be regarded as ambiguous, androgynous hermaphrodites.  They want to be seen and respected for what they are -- as men or women.  Have we not paused to notice that both men and women spend large sums of money on clothes and other artefacts that clearly identify their gender, or that women (and increasingly men as well) spend a great deal on gender-specific toiletries and cosmetics?  They do this to assert their identity as women or men, and we in this parliament have no business to disregard that identity.
This politically-correct determination to ignore real and important gender differences is both pointless and ridiculous, and makes our institution a laughing-stock.  It is also an insult to real people who are comfortable with their gender identity, and expect it to be respected, not least in forms of address.
I would urge you to withdraw this booklet immediately, with (if possible) an apology.  I should also be glad to know who authorised it, how many copies were printed and in how many languages, to whom they were distributed, and how much they cost."
This is by no means all I'll write in light of my visit to Brussels, but I simply had to share it with you boys and girls.

Tom Greeves


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.