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Gender-sensitive language shapes our reality

There are no women and women * - women are women!

“Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence;
it does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge
. "
(Tony Morrison, 1993)

Gender-sensitive language is not hip or modern - on the contrary, our use of language shapes the society in which we live. That is why an intersectional, inclusive and gender-sensitive language is very important to us. The gender star, or the asterisk, fights against the predominance of the linguistic, generic masculine and is committed to making the genders that exist in our society more diverse in language visible.

However, we have learned a lot recently and want to explain in this statement why we are changing our spelling. Instead of writing women *, from now on we will only write women - and distance ourselves from the asterisk. Because just as we use the asterisk to say friends, we have put the gender star after or on the terms woman and man. The aim was to want to include all people who define themselves as women, who are women, but who are often denied being a woman. Because there are two important levels here: on the one hand, there is external attribution, e.g. at birth, which is often based on our biological gender (eng: sex). But then there is also self-designation or self-identification - this often includes our gender identity. The self-designation is the decisive one: it is and remains the right of self-determination of every person to decide who he * she is.

In 2015/2016 we introduced the asterisk behind women - and wrote women *. At that time, the asterisk was in our perception, but also in society, as an inclusive language mechanism that was supposed to emphasize the social construction of gender ascription. The asterisk should show that categories such as being a man and being a woman are not “natural”, but are learned and appropriated in a process of sexual socialization.

But all people who define themselves as women are women. You don't need a special character or asterisk to emphasize this! The asterisk, although it was meant to be inclusive, opens the discourse for misogyne, trans-hostile exclusions. Because the asterisk behind women draws a biological line and differentiates, for example, between “real women” (women) and “trans women” (women *). That sounds provocative, but it is a reality for trans people - the asterisk is also used consciously by trans-hostile people and movements to deny them their right to self-determination.

This implies, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that trans women are actually not “real” women, which exposes the use of the asterisk in this context as transmisogynous. However, the only difference between cis people and trans people is the fact that cis people are people whose physical characteristics, social attribution and individual feelings are congruent, while trans people do not have this privilege and have to constantly fight for it.

It shows once again how important the struggle is for a non-discriminatory society and how changeable our language is. There is nothing more important than listening to those affected. Because unconditional solidarity also means touching your own nose, questioning yourself and changing your own behavior. Because what seems inclusive at first glance raises the question at second glance: Who are actually women *? With this question we became aware that the asterisk does not lead to a more inclusive language, as we hoped, but simulates inclusion, which means exclusion for those affected. The asterisk can thus force people into categories they do not belong to.

Thank you very much for the information and letters from our community, who have tirelessly pointed out this problem to us on social media. We apologize to all people we have injured or excluded through our use of language. That was never our intention. Of course, we will continue to change our language with a star, e.g. say fellow campaigners or guests, in order to include EVERYONE.

One thing is particularly important to us: we always have to think carefully and topic-specifically about who we mean by which terms. Our important insight is still: listen, reflect, change! Because intersectional, anti-racist feminism is only honest if it fights side by side in solidarity with everyone who is affected by discrimination and oppression.


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