The word “Latinx” is a litmus test. Hispanics want nothing to do with the word. They didn’t ask for it. They don’t want it. They won’t use it. And they don’t want college sophomores and their woke enablers bastardizing their language for the sake of saving them. Anyone choosing to use “Latinx” brands “themself” as “woke,” smarter and more virtuous than the ignorant peons they’re saving, and beyond the realm of normalcy.
It turns out France isn’t taking this any better.
Le Petit Robert, rivaled only by the Larousse in linguistic authority, chose to add “iel” — a gender-neutral merging of the masculine “il” (he) and the feminine “elle” (she) — to its latest online edition. Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, was not amused.
“You must not manipulate the French language, whatever the cause,” he said, expressing support for the view that “iel” was an expression of “wokisme.”
But surely, you ask, the language must be “evolving,” as that word too is being “reimagined” to mean rammed down people’s throats by those who have deeper and more empathetic understandings of how pandering to every sensitivity is a moral obligation?
Mr. Blanquer is seemingly convinced of a sweeping American “woke” assault on France aimed at spreading racial and gender discord over French universalism. Last month he told the daily Le Monde that a backlash against what he called woke ideology was the main factor in the 2016 victory of Donald J. Trump.
But, you reply, that’s just one old cis white guy’s opinion, exactly what one would expect from someone dedicated to “valorizing white institutions and white ways of knowing and being and structuring society in really problematic ways.”
In this instance, however, he was joined by Brigitte Macron, the first lady. “There are two pronouns: he and she,” she declared. “Our language is beautiful. And two pronouns are appropriate.”
But we’re told that norms are changing, even if they are entirely about change and have nothing to do with norms, which may evolve organically but do not shift overnight, if not hourly, upon pain of a swarm of woke gnats screaming at you or demanding you be canceled. And France isn’t having any of it.
France, a country where it is illegal for the state to compile racial statistics, is particularly on edge over the rise of American gender and race politics. President Emmanuel Macron has warned that “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States” may be a threat. Mr. Blanquer has identified “an intellectual matrix” in American universities bent on undermining a supposedly colorblind French society of equal men and women through the promotion of identity-based victimhood.
Or to put this more bluntly, France wants nothing to do with American pseudo-intellectual wokism. It rejects American “identity-based victimhood” and chooses instead a “colorblind French society of equal men and women.” Curiously, the NYT prefaces colorblind with “supposedly,” as if any failure to achieve its aspiration of equality disproves its liberalism.
Here, the aspiration of a colorblind society is racist. Equality between men and women is sexist. Here, the notion of equality has been replaced by equity, that the only true path to achieve a “just” and “moral” society is to engage in racism and sexism, just in reverse of the way it had been in the past. And to prove that France’s stance is “supposed,” the NYT offers an anecdote.
Lilian Delhomme, 24, a gender-nonconforming student of international affairs at the University of Paris 8 who has been using the pronoun “iel” for about a year, was appalled by Ms. Macron’s statement.
“This for me was very violent,” Mx. Delhomme said in an interview. “Coming from the first lady, from a woman, from a French teacher, from someone whose relationship went against many societal norms, it made me lose hope.”
Not using Mx. Delhomme’s preferred pronoun wasn’t merely “violent,” but “very violent,” no doubt from the scars no one sees. In her mind, her feelings dictate how France’s language must change to accommodate her.
Explaining the decision to switch to “iel,” Mx. Delhomme said: “Life was difficult enough being gay, and I didn’t want to add to that, but gradually I evolved, and I understood that my identity was not that of a man.”
This year, Mx. Delhomme informed fellow students and faculty of the new pronoun preference. To little avail. “Everyone still calls me ‘he,’ which is pretty disappointing for political science students,” said Mx. Delhomme, whose professor asked, “What on earth is that?” when Mx. Delhomme used “iel” on a résumé.
The issue isn’t whether Delhomme is entitled to be as gay as she wants to be, or be a woman to the world even if she was born a man. What genitalia she possesses is unknown. But what she cannot have is a language all her own. While this will likely seem appalling to progressive Americans, corporate America and American academics in particular, the French language isn’t quite as subject to reimagination at the behest of linguists and educators as American English.
Neologisms like “antivax” and “passe sanitaire” (health pass) do enter the lexicon with some regularity, but the Académie française, founded in 1634 to protect the French language, remains a vigilant guardian of linguistic purity against what one member called “brainless Globish” a couple of years ago.
The Académie francaise decides what is, and what is not, linguistically permitted in French. We have no similar beast in the United States, and so words come into being if people use them, journalists repeat them and dictionaries include them. And one dictionary in France, Petit Robert, included the gender neutral “iel” suffix even though the Académie rejects it.
But it’s France, so who cares? What difference does this make to America?
Still, at a time when the State Department has issued its first United States passport with an X gender marker for nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming persons, the outcry over “iel” suggests how sensitive France and America have become over their divergent approaches to gender and race.
To the extent the world is flat, and we must exist in conjunction with others, our jingoistic expectation that woke reimagination of language and equitable society will be simply accepted, if not embraced, by the rest of the world might be overly optimistic. Just because liberal ideals are anathema to progressives here does not mean that France, or other nations, will abandon their language or liberalism anymore than Hispanics will eventually awaken to the cool word “Latinx” if the woke just keep ramming it down their throat.