Today is Mother’s Day in the UK, but not in Germany (it’s on the 13th May) so it’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate my other (fore)mothers: my linguistic heroines. I’m very young offspring in terms of years – it’s barely 12 months since my feminist linguistic enlightenment – but like any child of any age I know that it’s the women in my life who, today in particular, deserve all my admiration and respect. They are the ones who ‘bring me up’ after all.
But like so many mothers, my heroines hardly get any other credit for their labour than this annual flower bouquet of dues. ‘Thanks mum’, many say begrudgingly rather than with true feeling – and to those mothers who dare to break the mould, that is, refuse to submit to their ‘natural’ role of selfless mothering, most have nothing to say at all. So the fate also of the feminist linguists Senta Trömel-Plötz and Luise F. Pusch, who gave up ‘looking after’ male interests and objectives in favour of ‘giving birth to’ Feministische Linguistik – the mother of all attacks on the neutrality of language.
And hurray to them for doing so! Not only have I and countless other women benefited greatly from the critical perspectives opened up by their work as well as their specifically feminist point of view, their efforts (in collaboration with many other feminist linguists) to make the German language more equal and inclusive of women have infiltrated every aspect of German life. The title ‘Fräulein’ (Miss), for example, has long been confined to the dustbin of history and most job titles now include the suffix ‘-in’, which means that women are as visible in professional roles as men.
However, despite the success of their work and their long list of academic credentials neither has held a permanent position at a German university since the 1980s. It seems being a heroine, just like being a mother, comes at a huge cost. And while I, like any child, am unable to even begin to repay this debt, the very least I can do, today of all days, is say: thank you Ms Trömel-Plötz and Ms Pusch, and Happy Mother’s Day!