The feminist translators and interpreters revolutionizing the profession in Argentina

Some members of Feminist Translators and Interpreters of Argentina (TEIFEM). Photo by Lía Díaz, used with permission.

Feminism is always growing and diversifying, and the need is arising for feminists to come together and create areas of common interest and practice unique forms of activism that move away from hegemonic feminism, the manifestation of the movement that is most visible to the general public.

The world of translation is no exception, and that's the reason I joined the Feminist Translators and Interpreters of Argentina (TEIFEM). We are a group of women and gender-nonconforming translation and interpreting professionals, students and teachers, who have come together in order to “speak up in favour of gender equality and to challenge the structures established within the profession” and to promote growth and solidarity amongst colleagues.

Bookmarks designed for the Mujeres colectivas book launch. Credit TEIFEM.

TEIFEM was created in May 2018, when Argentina was debating the draft bill to legalize abortion. At that time, several professional groups were voicing their support and some feminist translators wanted to do the same. Within a few hours of its creation, 100 members had joined, and 178 signatures had been collected on a letter of support. After fifteen days there were four hundred of us! There is no doubt that we very much needed something like this.

I joined TEIFEM days after its creation. A friend and colleague who was already a member recommended it to me, and it was something entirely different from what I was used to seeing in other translation groups. It was a pleasant surprise to find several acquaintances (fellow students, teachers and professionals) whom I very much respected.

It's also been a pleasure to engage with debates and questions concerning various feminist issues that are presented and explained with respect, without arrogance or belittling of others’ lack of knowledge, and by considering what we have in common when arriving at agreements.

Although the abortion law failed to muster enough votes in the Senate to be enacted, TEIFEM continued beyond its initial aim of gathering support. We therefore sought new ways to practice a different style of activism, both professionally and linguistically, through activities where we could debate the various aspects of our work.

Linguistic sexism and translation meets non-binary language

Non-binary language is another major debate that has created considerable controversy in Argentina and several other Spanish-speaking countries. Also known as inclusive language, it involves modifying the Spanish language in order to introduce a neutral gender to refer to individuals whose gender expression isn't fixed, or a group of individuals with various genders.

For example, because third person pronouns either have a feminine or masculine gender in Spanish, where the “-a” ending generally indicates feminine and the “-o” indicates masculine, it has been suggested that the neutral gender pronoun “elle/elles” be used in place of “ella/ellas” and “él/ellos” (“she/they” and “he/they”). When adjectives are used to describe nouns or pronouns it is also important that they agree with the gender of the noun or pronoun, which is why the use of alternative neutral gender characters such as “x”, “@” or “e” has been suggested for the endings indicating the gender of adjectives and nouns—”todes” as opposed to “todas” or “todos” (all/every).

During the first TEIFEM Meeting, 28 September 2019. Credit: TEIFEM.

Interestingly, it is in the field of translation and interpreting, professions practiced mainly by women, where linguistic sexism is most evident. Each time that articles or comments concerning inclusive language are published, or when it is used in a written text, the most common reactions from many translators tend to be outright rejection, and sometimes forceful jibes, insults and attacks, as can be seen in the comments of this post from Las 1001 Traducciones, a well-known page dedicated to translation that shared a news story about TEIFEM.

Although TEIFEM's members are not unified on the subject of non-binary language, we have arrived at a basic consensus on how to deal with it. Mariana Rial, one of the group's creators, summarized this perspective in the translation podcast series En Pantuflas:

Si somos profesionales de la lengua, tenemos que estar atentas a estos fenómenos que se están dando, independientemente de lo que a cada una le parezca bien o mal, le guste o no le guste, le parezca que lo puede aplicar o no… Básicamente, mirarlo con ojo profesional.

As language professionals, we have to be mindful of these phenomenona, irrespective of what seems good or bad to people as indviduals, what they like or dislike and what they think they can or cannot use… Essentially, it's about looking at it from a professional perspective.

Personally, except for in special circumstances, I'm not in the habit of using non-binary language in daily or work communications, although I do closely monitor this phenomenon with great interest. For me, it's a way doing my part, linguistically, to highlight a social and political issue: It has nothing to do with “forcibly” changing the language, but rather with showing how language reflects the social order.

The reality is also that many publishers, LGBT+ and trans rights organizations, and even official and international bodies have already started to consider using non-binary or gender-neutral language in some of their communications. The phenomenon has become difficult to ignore, and from a practical perspective, for those of us who translate, it's way to broadens our professional horizons.

An area that is revolutionizing the profession

The practice of translation is known for being relatively lonely and highly competitive. A translator or proofreader spends many hours in front of a screen, virtually connected to the world; a simultaneous interpreter generally spends hours in a booth with a headset and notes.

At TEIFEM, we are always looking for reasons to organize meetings that remove us from this isolation, that celebrate the professional achievements of our colleagues and encourage professional solidarity.

Many TEIFEM members are also members of other feminist and human rights organizations, giving us many opportunities for collaboration and strategic exchanges of knowledge and tools in order to achieve common objectives.

One example of this is the translations done by a few colleagues for the book The tragedy of woman's emancipation and other texts, a compilation of the writings of Emma Goldman produced by Red Editorial in which non-binary language was used. Also, as part of some of our activities, we donate menstrual hygiene products to  organizations that distribute them to people living on the street or in extreme poverty.

A flyer for TEIFEM's participation in the Modern Languages information seminar of the University of La Plata, 2019.

Since it began almost two years ago, TEIFEM has become a highly active community, organizing and participating in talks, seminars and meetings. Some of its members have been interviewed for news articlespodcasts and there is even a chapter to us in a book published in 2019 called Mujeres colectivas.

On the time the Spanish version of that article was published, TEIFEM had more than 1,100 members. We maintain a private Facebook group, but many of the ideas that arise within it are shared externally on an Instagram account and on Twitter using the #TEIFEM hashtag, including information, recommendations, cultural stories and a variety of feminist- and linguistically-themed activities.

Like the languages we work with, TEIFEM is active and dynamic, developing in step with these fast-changing times in order to deal with new challenges creatively, professionally and, above all, through sisterhood between women.

For me, TEIFEM was the best way to get closer to feminism. I found a community where I am completely at ease, where the only rule is respect and tolerance, where I can ask questions without apprehension and share opinions that inspire us and make us all grow.

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