Philosophy, Feminism, and How To Do Things With Words
Common Sense Advisory partnered with GALA and Women in Localization to conduct research on gender in the localization industry and recently released a report: The Role and Impact of Gender and Family in the Language Services Industry.
Read the following commentary on the report from one of the industry's female leaders.
I have a background in academics, having studied and lectured at the university for almost ten years. I was never in doubt that the world of concepts, ideas, and words was my sphere. My field of specialization—the philosophy of language—comprises everything I believe in when trying to understand and describe the world scientifically through the only truly universal means we have: language.
Life’s coincidental changes made me grab an opportunity to enter localization. It wasn’t part of my career plan or a strategic way to quickly advance by shifting to an industry that was approximately 70% female. In fact, I never thought of the gender aspect as having any impact on my way of looking at the world or as limiting my possibilities. Ironically, I didn’t realize until long after I left the academic career path that academia is, like many other professions, dominated by men, especially in the top positions.
In my academic field of philosophy, there was a special field of research—feminist philosophy—trying to establish a biological and epistemological foundation for a special way of thinking and contemplating. As in too many gender discussions, however, the counterproductive approach of being the “opposition” to men made people get stuck talking about what is fundamentally different between men and women. (Not that it isn’t relevant and it is certainly supported by objective biochemical and physical research.) In my observations, the discussion around gender equality often initiated by women was seemingly based on a belief in some “universal truth” that ultimately reveals that women are at least as splendid and qualified as men–and let’s face it, even superior to them.
To me, this is not the point. As it happens, I have always declined to participate in women-only gender discussions since so many of them turn contentious (and unproductive) because gender becomes an “us vs. them” topic. Lest you get the wrong idea, I do of course recognize and in fact highly appreciate equality in terms of gender diversity; I simply have a different way of looking at it.
Looking back on my shift into localization almost 13 years ago, a shift which I have never doubted or regretted for a moment, I realized what I truly love about the industry and the people in it. (Hint: it has nothing to do with gender.) Walking into the office in the morning being surrounded by people with an intellectual height, a certain sense of humor (however sick it may appear), and a commitment to something as intangible as language makes me feel at home. Meeting my peers throughout the industry all over the world in different contexts makes me aware that there’s much more that we share than what separates us. Language brings us together, across cultures, across political standpoints, across wealth, and across gender.
What we share in this great industry is not only a commercial interest of running a business, we share a deep understanding of what words can do, how much power they can have, how much return on investment they can create—and ultimately that they define how we see the world and what we can wish for.
That is why localization is special, a place where people treat each other with respect because language itself requires respect and integrity. Treating people with respect becomes inevitable if you care about how to choose and put your words. You need to mean what you say if you want to be who you are. Words are what make us special, not our gender.
The CSA gender report states that this industry actually is in a pretty good shape compared to others, for at least one obvious reason: Most localization professionals are women. There is still a lot to do and to discuss. It’s the way you speak about the world and the concepts you can phrase that can actually change the world. Let’s lead that conversation by example!