Let’s be firmly convinced—progressives, at least, are firmly convinced—that the status of women and respect for minorities will take a great leap forward the day we all wholeheartedly adopt ‘inclusive’ writing—a mirror of diversity, an icon of universal respect.
Instead of adopting inclusive writing, a solution could be to learn a language without gendered grammar, like Hungarian, as one of our editors suggested, or better still, Farsi. Iran—as we all know as a country that is at the forefront of defending women’s rights and diversity—speaks Farsi, a language that does not recognise masculine or feminine.
But it seems that not everyone can start speaking the same way as those in Tehran, so we must find another way to adapt our language to the demands of the modern world, in every way from gender-neutral toilets to grammar and spelling.
Some languages, fortunately, escape this progressive hacking, and are content—in order to advance the rights of who-knows-who—to propose the choice of pronoun: they/them instead of he/she.
Others, like my mother tongue, the beautiful and noble language of Molière, Chateaubriand, and Hugo, permanently carry in their flesh, like so many XX and XY chromosomes, the trace of masculine and feminine. They are therefore the privileged victims of this new form of barbarism. French words have to agree, everywhere, all the time, “in gender and in number” as the formula established by centuries of grammar books dictates. Progressives have decided to put an end to this, and thus to promote a language that becomes … a cacophony of disagreement.
What is inclusive writing? It is described as an adaptation of the language to contemporary developments, based mainly on three principles: the feminisation of functional nouns, the use of neutral terms as far as possible, and when this is not possible, the coexistence of both masculine and feminine endings highlighted by a new punctuation mark, the ‘median point.’ One could also add the abolition of certain grammatical rules, such as the principle that “the masculine takes precedence over the feminine” when an adjective must agree with nouns of different genders. This rule is a privileged horse battle for feminists, who imagine that France, which is nonetheless the homeland of the beautiful Heloise, Joan of Arc, the Marquise de Pompadour, Marie Curie, Coco Chanel, and Brigitte Bardot, has been oppressing women for (at least!) two thousand years because of such a grammatical rule.
At first reserved for a few vaguely sectarian cranks, inclusive writing has made giant strides in a few months. One after the other, major commercial brands are getting in. A few weeks ago, after downloading the latest update to my favourite second-hand clothes shopping app—Vinted (not to name it)—I was amazed to discover that there was no longer an “acheteur” (buyer) and a “vendeur” (seller) but an “acheteur.se” and a “vendeur.se” The horrifying little median point—this sesame that is supposed to open the way to diversity—had appeared everywhere. But Vinted is not the only one to blame. Some government administrations are also getting in on the game, as well as universities. From now on, it is becoming increasingly difficult to apply for a research project without having to go under the knife of inclusive writing to explain one’s work and academic career. Same for job applications in big firms.
The Académie française, which has been responsible for the French language since Richelieu and Louis XIII, has repeatedly taken exception to this and explicitly condemned this grotesque practice. No matter, the philosophy of suspicion is at work to ignore its opinions. For the proponents of inclusive writing, the Académie française is nothing but a collection of old, white, heterosexual males; their word has no validity. Several ministers have opposed the general use of inclusive writing in the administration, but they have not been listened to either, and the beast is advancing—inexorably.
Inclusive writing is, like many progressive fads, a pastime of the wealthy, of the culturally privileged. Its promoters forget that before engaging in inclusive writing, we must first learn how to read and write. Inclusive writing advocates do not consider the question of learning to read, since they have been able to read for a long time. These are the same people who, at other times, explained to us that spelling was a bourgeois marker and, as such, was useless as long as we could understand the meaning of a text. These kinds of acrobatics can be indulged in when one already possesses the keys to knowledge and mastery of the written word: it is easy, exhilarating, and stimulating.
Children are once again at risk of being the innocent victims of their elders’ experiments. When it comes to learning the basics, it is difficult to make room for inclusive writing. Learning to read is about putting things together. Consonants with vowels, syllables with each other, and words with each other to make this extraordinary construction that is the sentence spring forth. Reading is fundamentally a construction. And inclusive writing, it is obvious, is indeed a ‘deconstruction,’ which breaks up and tears apart the words, and then the language, if only visually. How can we make sense of fragmented material if we don’t already know the meaning of the words that have been tortured in this way?
Logically enough, inclusive writing and approximative methods of learning to read can go hand in hand: when you are confronted, in a text, with a word cut out like a coupon along the dotted lines, there is no need to read the word. It is enough to understand it. For the enlightened fifty-year-old feminist, it is clear. But for the child who is learning?
There is no manual for pronouncing inclusive writing. We don’t speak in inclusive writing in our everyday life. But if you read a letter written according to these new codes out loud, you end up sounding like an engine that has trouble starting.
If the teaching of reading, reshaped by pedagogical innovations, has reduced the level of children’s skills by several years, it is a safe bet that inclusive writing will not improve the situation much. Pedagogical experts have screamed against an elitist culture that distances them from the people. Let’s kick Balzac out of the schools! Let’s study rap singers instead! But there is an even greater gap between inclusive writing and the language heard by children at home.
The generalised use of inclusive writing will only widen the gap between the texts seen in class and the words of everyday expression. And, unless Victor Hugo and La Fontaine are put through the inclusion mill, there is bound to come a time when pupils will be confronted with texts that are not inclusive. Will they regard these texts with mistrust, conveying an older order? Are not these texts to be torn down? Will they learn to navigate between two linguistic systems—one sexually correct, chosen, and authorised; the other endured, and judged to be dripping with machismo?
The global discrediting of the written word, of a backward-looking literature that thinks badly, is the end game of teaching inclusive writing. The tragedy is that under these conditions of parsing out the subtleties of language, we won’t bother to fight the actual argument of a ‘macho’ writer: in this case, it is the very matter of the expression that will be thrown away, which is much more convenient. A literary philosophy of suspicion is gradually taking shape in which an author’s content will be pilloried before even being read, simply because of the ‘non-inclusivity’ of the writing.
Fortunately, the engine of inclusivism is so complex that it is likely to explode in the faces of its inventors before any mass use develops. And the irony couldn’t be richer!
A student union has just posted on social networks an assignment proposed to students for a law degree at the University of Lyon—entirely written in inclusive writing. The instructions recommend answering the questions, if possible, in inclusive writing. The delirium is so far-reaching that the text is simply incomprehensible.
The law professor behind this assignment is not acting randomly. He works in family law, and his text precisely stages a situation of maximum deconstruction, where the change of grammatical gender goes hand in hand with the change of sex. For those who have doubts, the demonstration is clear. The destruction of the traditional family finds a perfect auxiliary in the destruction of language.
Arti is a non-binary person, married since 2018 to another non-binary person, Maki. Both of them are German citizens, with a ‘gender’ marker in their civil status indicating ‘various.’
—so begins the assignment. It is not known how many students managed to complete the assignment, but those who dropped out are probably all apprentice fascists.
In this madhouse, there is still reason for hope. There are some brave souls who throw down the gauntlet and challenge the madness.
An administrative court in Grenoble has annulled a university’s decision on legislative procedure, on the grounds that it was written in inclusive writing. The case was brought before the court by a teacher who challenged the legality of a decision adopted by the board of directors of Grenoble-Alpes University because it was written in inclusive writing. The court found that the text did not meet the degree of “clarity” and “immediate accessibility” required for this type of document. In the final opinion, the judge quoted passages from the offending document, offered here in the original French to prove the point:
La séance est présidée par le.la directeur.rice sortant.e. Si ce.cette dernier.ère est candidat.e, la séance est présidée par le.a doyen.ne d’âge élu.e non candidat.e parmi les enseignant.es, enseignant.es chercheur.es et les chercher.es.
It is not necessary to read and understand French to see the absurdity of this wording, where punctuation ends up taking up more space than the text itself. The Grenoble administrative court’s ruling was based on the recommendations of the Académie française. It is to be hoped that this decision will set a precedent for the future.