Each December, along with all sorts of assessments and reviews, we determine what the “Word of the Year” was. In other countries and different languages, this is done by major dictionaries. For example, according to the Oxford Dictionary authors, the Word of the Year 2021 was “vax”, the vaccine.
In Greece, no dictionary publisher has undertaken such a task. Nevertheless, the blog that I manage, “Words have their own story” (I lexis ehoun ti diki tous istoria), runs a poll each year, in order to determine the word of the year. In 2021, more readers than ever participated in the poll, and the Word of 2021, by a large margin, was “femicide”.
This came as a surprise to many, because the “main event” of 2021 was the pandemic and the vaccination effort that gave birth to numerous neologisms. Still, even if the term “femicide” has existed in Greek for a few years now, it’s a fact that it was used a lot more in 2021, because of the unfortunate occasions of several femicides that gained extensive media coverage, such as the one in the Glyka Nera area of Attica.
Many opposed the use of the term “femicide” with an unprecedented and almost inexplicable violence. At first, they deemed it to be a non-existing term and later on, when it was used more broadly, they argued that it was demeaning towards women as it… stripped them of their human identity: Why don’t you use the term “homicide”, aren’t women human beings? There were also those who claimed that the use of a special term was divisive, in the same way that the alt-right in the USA opposes the slogan “Black lives matter”.
Those femicide term-deniers overlook a few things. First of all, the fact that the term isn’t a Greek peculiarity and neologism, but an international term (femicide/ feminicide). Also, the fact that not all murders of women are femicides. If a woman dies during a robbery, it isn’t a femicide. If a person kills their female neighbour over a land dispute, it isn’t a femicide. Femicide is when a woman is murdered because she is a woman, and/or because of her social role. It is when Babis murdered Caroline, when Eleni Topaloudi was murdered by those who raped her, when a woman is murdered in the name of someone else’s “honour”. It is when someone kills a woman who tries to flee a toxic relationship, because they think she is their property.
Those who have an issue with the fact that the term “androcide” isn’t established (or that there aren’t Straight Pride parades, or those who push the “All lives matter” slogan), don’t realise that they belong to a dominant social group that doesn’t need protection. They do not know the fear that countless women experience every day when they hear footsteps behind them, as they walk down a poorly lit road.
In my active presence in social media, I’ve noticed something interesting: The people who strongly oppose the term “femicide”, are pretty much the same who raise objections every time a relatively new gendered term comes up, to show female presence or when inclusive language is used (e.g. “he/she”, police guard instead of policeman etc.)
I am not referring to the slight awkwardness or the surprise element that a neologism or an unfamiliar word or phrase might raise to many among us. I am talking about strong reactions and mocking disapproval, or even violent reactions, that I believe to have causes that go way deeper: These people are brought up within the principles of the patriarchy, that shuns women from public life and only accepts them in limited social roles and professions, hence their strong objection when the female presence becomes visible even intra muros through for example inclusive language (he/ she) or a gendered term (judgess, ministress). Women are allowed to be workers, dancers and students but not judgesses or ministresses!
The epicene term [female] “minister” is like a kind of burka that hides women. We can put this argument to the test. What kind of image comes to your mind when you read a sentence such as “The bill submitted by the government’s minister suggests…”? Is it a man or a woman that speaks in Parliament? If we’re honest, most will admit that the word “minister” makes us think of men and that the women are left in the margins.
Despite some people’s objections, this past decade – term-wise- could be called “the ministress’ decade”. Back in 2010, the term was hardly ever uttered but with each passing year, it is gaining broader acceptance – and not just from the Left. In last year’s general elections in Cyprus, female candidates from almost all the participating political parties, including the governing “Dimokratikos Synagermos”, called themselves [candidate] “ministress”.
Some, in good faith, don’t think there’s a need for gendered terms, using the English language as an example. Yet in English there’s no grammatical gender. In all languages where there is a grammatical gender, just like in Greek, i.e. in French or in German, there’s now a tendency to establish gendered terms for public officials such as “la présidente” in French, instead of “Madame le président” which was used until now, or the German “Präsidentin”. Also, even the Académie française finally accepted gendered terms, despite its initial objections.
Of course, gendered terms and inclusive language alone are not able to stop discriminations against women, nor can they single handedly achieve sex equality, especially in terms of representation in positions of responsibility. Language doesn’t have superpowers, but it helps shape a more favourable ambience that can then be reflected linguistically.
Nor will society’s embracing of the term “femicide” stop femicides from happening. Still, it will help us realise what the problem is, so it’s a step in the right direction. Last summer, after the femicide in Glyka Nera, the far-right minister K. Bogdanos launched himself into a “holy war” against the establishment of the term “femicide”. Since then, the minister was kicked out of that political party and the term “femicide” is being used by more and more people, including the Greek President. Hence we have grounds for cautious optimism.