In transatlantic sex wars, gender is supposedly alien to French culture, as if it were essentially American. This nationalist cliché can be turned upside down if one takes language seriously. Gender is not only, but it is also, a grammatical term, especially in French. It is omnipresent in the experience of French speakers, in particular through rules of agreement, both as a reminder to women of their gender and in the political history of the French language. Attempts to deny the importance of grammatical gender only make it resurface with a vengeance, as illustrated in Valère Novarina’s Le Vivier des noms and as evidenced in Foucault’s introduction to Herculine Barbin. This observation provides a starting point for a theoretical argument about gender, not just in the language but also as a language, and the implications of its “signifying” relationships of power, including in terms of intersectionality.
Gender Is/in French
éric fassin is a professor of sociology at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes–Saint-Denis in the departments of political science and of gender studies (which he cochairs). His work focuses on sexual and racial politics, as well as their intersections, especially concerning immigration issues. He recently edited a special issue of Contemporary French Civilization (with Daniel Borrillo) called Au-delà du mariage (Fall 2014), and one of Raisons politiques titled Les langages de l’intersectionnalité (May 2015). He is a coauthor of Discutir Houellebecq: Cinco ensayos críticos entre Buenos Aires y París (Capital Intelectual, Buenos Aires, 2015) and is currently completing an essay titled Le genre français (La Découverte, 2016).
Éric Fassin; Gender Is/in French. differences 1 September 2016; 27 (2): 178–197. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-3621771
Download citation file: