This article has been updated.
In front of a vast field in the Argentine province of Chaco, President Alberto Fernández greeted the crowd with a huge smile: “Hello, friends, friends there friends!” Fernández’s use of the word gender neutral friends (friends) is an example of inclusive language, which is increasingly becoming a hot topic in the so-called culture wars raging across much of Latin America.
Young, left-leaning Gen Z activists have spearheaded the movement for inclusive language — like using phrases like “todos, todas y todes” — to, they say, stop language from marginalizing women and non-binary people. This type of language has been discussed in progressive circles since the feminist movements of the 1970s, but its current use became fashionable during the 2018 pro-choice protests in Argentina.
Today, it has spread across the region and into politics, often brandished by politicians on the left and pilloried by those on the right. While the general public often shrugs off such controversies, they have always proved a tempting issue at a time when many politicians are keen to distract from rising inflation, stagnating economic growth and other pressing challenges.
In March, for example, a social media storm erupted after Colombian vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez used gender-neutral language in her first remarks as Gustavo Petro’s running mate.
Congresswoman Margarita Restreppo tweeted“Mayors there mayors, nadies there Nadias, characters there people ¡Dios saves a Colombia!” and former representative Álvaro Hernán Prada tweeted in spanish“They don’t know how to speak, they haven’t been taught Spanish…they’re spoiling their language.”
Other less vocal critics view gender-neutral language as nothing more than linguistically incorrect political posturing. The Real Academia Española have repeatedly rejected him, and the RAE director recently called the current push political absurdity. He said the RAE had encouraged the evolution of more inclusive language in the past, for example by changing the definition of words like game from “a judge’s wife” to “a woman judge” – but that the new demands are “nonsense”.
Other critics describe the use of inclusive language in public places as part of a large-scale project of ideological indoctrination into pro-LGBTQ “ideologies.” Schools have become a major focus. When a school in Porto Alegre, Brazil, sent students home with gender-neutral texts, some parents complained to school officials and local politicians, and right-wing pundits helped amplify the event.
Across Brazil, at least 34 state-level bills have sprung up that would restrict the use of gender-neutral language in schools. “There is a clear political strategy on the part of conservative political leaders [in Brazil] capitalize on this issue,” said Rafael Cortez, professor of political science at the University of São Paulo. He added that right-wing politicians are seizing on issues of identity like inclusive language to win votes from the rapidly growing socially conservative evangelical electorate. President Jair Bolsonaro has made his position on the matter clear, declaring outside the presidential palace that “gay gender neutral language” “disturbs our children”. He said, “It hurts young people… [making them] interested in these things.
Similar education-focused bills have popped up across the region. In Uruguay, far-right Cabildo Abierto proposed a bill that would ban inclusive language in the classroom, and in the state of Nuevo León in Mexico, a bill would ban the use of inclusive language in the classroom. education code.
While most relevant legislation in the region restricts rather than encourages the use of inclusive language, Argentina passed a law in 2021 that obliges public media – and incentivizes private media – to adhere to a set of guidelines aimed at establishing equity in the representation of gender and gender diversity. in audiovisual media. The guidelines include “promoting the use of inclusive language”. Compliant companies would receive a “certificate of fairness”, while non-compliance could result in reduced access to advertising or programming from public entities.
The legislation has drawn heavy criticism. For Argentinian libertarian Javier Milei, “There is no reason for the state to put this oppressive boot on my head and force me to use something that even the Real Academia does not accept.”
Yet despite the legislative struggle, polls in Argentina suggest that most people either vaguely favor inclusive language or don’t care at all. This even includes progressives and gender activists. “Today, the debate [in progressive circles] is more focused on the acquisition of concrete rights, such as the possibility of moving freely and having greater equality for trans people, lesbians [and] the LGBTQ+ collective,” said Gonzalo Olivares, adjunct professor in sociology at the University of Buenos Aires and consultant for Argentina’s Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity. “The language debate is just not a priority right now, especially given the very poor socio-economic conditions the country is experiencing,” he said.
Cortez, from Brazil, pointed to a similar dynamic. “We cannot deny that step by step these new ideas are impacting the electoral arena… [but] issues like the economy, unemployment and crime will still dominate this year’s election. He added that the media and politicians pay disproportionate attention to inclusive language, given that Brazilians are much more concerned about a range of other issues.
As the debate over gender-neutral language spreads across borders, one constant remains: politicians and pundits seem more interested than the public.
This article has been updated to remove a quote from a Colombian comedy group.
González Camaño is Editorial Assistant at QAspecialized in the cultural and ecological policies of the Southern Cone.
Brown is editor and production manager at QA.
Keywords: Alberto Fernández, Argentina, Brazil, Francia Márquez, gender neutral, Inclusive language, Jair Bolsonaro, Lenguaje inclusivo, LGBT, non-binary
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its editors.