Language reflects the reality. It not only shows how we perceive the reality and affects the way we think about it, but the language also shapes the new reality. The Polish language does not promote gender equality. This means that in its lexis, word-formation, phraseology and grammar, the female grammatical form is under-represented or even absent *. The lack of bias-free language is particularly evident in the names of professions, what favours maintaining the rooted gender stereotypes in vocational education and on the labour market.
As part of the Campaign “Profession Has No Gender. You Can Be Whoever You Want!” we make efforts that the feminine forms be introduced to the official names of professions.
We are convinced that introducing feminine nouns to the names of professions would contribute to changing the way they are perceived and doing away with the conventional division into “masculine and feminine” professions. At the same time it would be a clear message that women have the aptitudes for these professions and are welcome in them. Finally, it would be an incentive for women to choose technical trainings at schools, which would benefit both them as well as schools and employers.
In order to better understand how language affects access to profession we suggest that you get to know a few facts.
For 1636 official professions contained in the “Classification of Professions …” the feminine form is present in less than 50.
In the latest version of the “Classification of Professions …” (introduced by the Decree of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy dated 7/8/2014) it is explained that the professions’ names in feminine form refer only to occupations traditionally feminized. However, they do not include those in which women have predominated for at least 50-70 years. In the education sector where 80% of employees are women, there is not a single profession’s name in a feminine form. In the health care and social assistance sector (in 2016 82% of employees were women), the feminine form is present in about 20 professions but mainly in those associated with assistance. Are we to conclude that 80% of women in a given profession is not yet a dominance but 82% already is?
In professions and sectors strongly feminized now there are still professions’ names in masculine form.
There are many examples showing that in professions and sectors strongly feminized, the masculine form is commonly used – still there is a teacher-man profession (masculine grammatical form) and not a teacher-woman (feminine grammatical form), a librarian-man profession and not a librarian-woman, a hairdresser-man profession and not a hairdresser-woman, a florist-man profession and not a florist-woman, a salesman profession and not a saleswoman . What’s more, in the case of traditional “female” professions, when the men enter these jobs the masculine version of the job titles are introduced and exist alongside the feminine title, e.g. model-woman / model-men, stewardess / steward, nurse/male nurse.
Feminine names of professions were introduced to Poland as early as in the 1890s.
For Polish women fighting for emancipation at that time, the better access to education (including vocational) as well as professional activation were a priority. In the published then magazine STER there was a section called Women’s Professional Work that encouraged women to take up a job and become economically independent. The magazine used the feminine forms of professions to convince and encourage women to work, for example it used female versions of such jobs’ titles as administrator, accompanists, accountants and school inspector. **
The masculine grammatical forms of professions suggest that these are professions for men.
This is particularly evident in the gender based segregation of the vocational courses in schools, where in the engineering and technology classes as well as the architecture and construction classes there is less than 1% of girls. In vocational schools a disproportion between boys and girls is the greatest (72% of students are boys). This contributes to the deepening segregation of the labour market into the masculinized and feminized sectors of the economy. The feminized ones are less paid, have a lower social status and are characterized by a surplus of employee, which means difficulties with finding a job.
*See. Katarzyna Hołojda, How do Polish women perceive feminine forms and why is it so bad? ,http://www.akademiagender.cba.pl/gm3.html
** Dictionary of female names of Polish language. Edited by Agnieszka Małocha-Krupy, University of Wroclaw Publishing House, Wrocław 2015.