Feminism and Gender in the Translation Industry

Today, I’d like to bring your attention to a rather controversial issue: translation and gender. I’m sure that nowadays, being surrounded by the effects of the women’s movement, you could be wondering about the role of translation in this matter.

I’d like to start by telling you that, as a translator myself, this is a topic that fascinates me. Luckily, I had the chance to intervene a text leaving traces of ‘feminist’ writing. I’ll tell you all about later.

First thing first, let’s introduce this matter properly. I’ll be quoting the work of a great author: Louise Von Flotow. In particular, her book Translation and Gender. Translating in the era of feminism.

As Von Flotow says, “gender awareness in translation practice poses questions about the links between social stereotypes and linguistic forms, about the politics of language and cultural difference, about the ethics of translation and about reviving inaccessible works for contemporary readers. It highlights the importance of the cultural context in which translation is done.”

She uses many examples of radical feminist experimental writing of the 1970s. She claims that “they viewed language as an instrument of women’s oppression and subjugation which needed to be reformed, if not replaced by a new women’s language. They attacked language itself rather than their message.”

She adds that: “radical feminist writing in the late twentieth century has been experimental in that it explores new ground, seeking to develop new ideas and a new language for women.” For example: new words, new spelling, new grammatical constructions, new images and metaphors in an attempt to get beyond the conventions of patriarchal language that, in their view, determine to a large extent what women can think and write.

A while ago, I had this client who wrote most of her book using “she” in the generic form, where it would have normally been “he”. This author decided to make a statement in her book. So, I thought we could take it a step further in the translation. Given that Spanish shows gender in nouns, we agreed that all generic nouns would be feminine instead of the “consensual” masculine form. Let’s see some examples:

  • Scientists should = las científicas deberían.
  • Your doctor = tu médica.
  • Researchers = las investigadoras.
  • Everyone = todas.

Only in those cases where male scientists or researchers were mentioned, I would use the masculine form. Otherwise, generic nouns were always in feminine.  

Of course, this change doesn’t always have to be so radical. As a writer/translator, you can bend the language and find alternatives that don’t necessarily imply some kind of gender discrimination. The following are some examples that I used in my website and in my blog posts:

  • welcome = te doy la bienvenida
  • parents = familia
  • followers = quienes me/nos siguen

Just like Von Flow claims, “translation in the feminine is a political act, and an act of women’s solidarity. When a feminist translator intervene in a text for political reasons, they draw attention to their action. In doing so, they demonstrate how easily misogynist aspects of patriarchal language can be dismantled once they have been identified. They also demonstrate their decision-making power.”

Translators have been involved in feminist rewriting for decades.

“What has experimental feminist writing meant for translation practice? It has foregrounded the issue of gender in language and caused translators to respond to the resulting technical and theoretical challenges. When confronted with texts full of wordplay and fragmented syntax, translators have had to develop creative methods similar to those of the source-text writers; they had to go beyond translation to supplement their work, making up for the differences between various patriarchal languages by employing wordplay, grammatical dislocations and syntactic subversion in other places in their texts.”  

I’m all for creative writing and, when agreed with the author, creative translation or what we love to call transcreation. Feminist translation is definitely a form of transcreation. It explores language differences and it always affects the target text.

Hi there! I’m Ariadna, from ariadnatranslations.com

I’m here to share some thoughts and ideas about my job as a translator. I love writing about language, women/feminism, health and wellbeing, among other interesting topics. If you liked what you read above, I invite you to comment and share in your social media. Let’s all learn from each other! Remember: sharing is caring!