French minister slams ‘sexist’ MPs in row over masculine job titles

French MP Barbara Pompili accused her colleagues of sexism
French MP Barbara Pompili accused her colleagues of sexism. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP
France's environment minister on Friday accused male colleagues in parliament of still being mired in sexism, after she objected to them using the masculine definite article in her job title.

“There is still work to be done,” Barbara Pompili told Europe 1 radio.

“What I saw yesterday at the National Assembly was some men not letting me speak as they did not agree.”

Pompili had clashed with MP Julien Aubert and other MPs from the right-wing opposition in a debate over wind farms after he addressed her as “Madame le ministre”, using the masculine form of the definite article in French.

She hit back by addressing Aubert, serving as a rapporteur on a bill, as “Monsieur la rapporteure” using the female version of the definite article.

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“I ask very clearly to be addressed as ‘Madame la ministre’ and if (he) does not respect this then he will be addressed as ‘Monsieur la rapporteure’,” she said.

MP Annie Genevard, presiding over the debate, backed her right-wing colleague Aubert, saying that the use of “Madame le ministre” had been validated by the French Academy which oversees language in the country.

But the minister later tweeted a clip of the debate, saying: “Is it too much to ask in 2021 to be called ‘Madame la ministre’ and not ‘le ministre’ when you are a woman?”

The French language is slowly evolving to include more feminine versions of job titles such as directrice (the feminine version of directeur for company bosses) and rédactrice (for a female editor).

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, for example, describes herself as Madame la présidente (referring to her presidency of the regional council, although she is running for the top job in the 2022 elections).

However the use of ‘inclusive writing’ – where both the masculine and feminine versions of a job title are used when the sentence is not about a specific person – has proved more controversial.

Despite being increasingly widely used in formal correspondence, it has been banned in the classroom after it was deemed “too complicated”.

READ ALSO What is inclusive writing and why is it controversial in France?

Member comments

    1. The basic sentiment behind inclusivity is respect and kindness towards one’s preferences. If one wants to be addressed “la” ministre, or “her” or “he” or “they”, then let’s respect that. We already respect different spellings for the same name “Hugo” vs “Ugo” etc. or call each other by preferred nicknames, and I don’t think this is so different from that, much less, hard to keep up with.

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