Четверг, 25 апреляИнститут «Высшая школа журналистики и массовых коммуникаций» СПбГУ


The mass media are a powerful opinion-forming vehicle, they touch upon various spheres of life, and the manner in which language functions in them is of considerable importance for the stimulation of awareness and frequently for evoking intense emotions. The various mass media, particular programmes and broadcasts deal with previously determined subject matters, yet sometimes an event or controversial statement starts having a life of its own. Multiple commentaries on such an event or statement appear and it becomes present in the various media, adding impetus to a discussion which involves more and more people and institutions. Last year such an enormous media storm was brought about in Poland by the gender category, also present in the media discourse occasionally before, but fully flourishing only now. The fact that many discussions were not always substantive and often triggered aggressive behaviour can be illustrated by a few cases of protesters barging into lecture rooms (e. g. on 18 November 2013 and 8 December 2013), which eventually ended with police interventions. 

The objective of my paper is to present the notion of gender and the manners of its functioning, development, and dominant role in the media sphere in the past few months (particularly in 2013 and the first months of 2014). I consider this issue to be important for several reasons and on several planes. Firstly, it is connected with the debate on the place of women and men in society, which has been present in the public discourse since the fall of the communist system and censorship machinery. It refers to such issues as linguistic sexism, feminism, political correctness, and the attitude towards sexual minorities. Currently, these issues are strongly present in the mass media, and their examination is connected with the breaking of a peculiar taboo which used to be in force for many years, and which, according to some members of the society, should still be in force and enforced. Hence, these issues are socially significant as they indicate the stratification and the diversified outlook on life of particular people and groups participating in the discussion. Another factor proving the significance of the issue is the participation of representatives of the entire society in the debate — starting from ordinary citizens commenting its appearance in various fora, through participants involved in the formation of organizations of opponents (e. g. “Stop gender”) and supporters (the Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Mikołaj Kopernik Polish Gender Associations), to statements made by representatives of Ministries, the government and the Church — from bishops’ statements to gender supporters’ letter to the Pope. This issue is also interesting from a purely linguistic point of view — it can serve as an example used to observe how a foreign word, in this case one borrowed from the English language, clears a path for itself to the Polish language, and how it settles there, becoming polonized (phonetically, graphically and inflectionally), and how its derivatives are being formed, which proves that this emotion-evoking term has entirely settled in the Polish language within a relatively short time.

My fundamental research material comprises press articles from the most representative daily papers (“Gazeta Wyborcza”, “Rzeczpospolita”) and weekly magazines (“Polityka”, “Wprost”), supplemented with subjects of radio programmes discussed in the four state radio stations, as well as various Internet sources. I will analyse archival data and compare them with the results of research conducted more than ten years ago [Brzozowska 2003] when the term was only just appearing occasionally in the mass media. It did not stir up too many emotions then and practically until the final months of 2013 it had been known exclusively to a narrow group of specialists dealing with gender studies. In my research then I also included the newspaper “Życie”, but since its publication was discontinued in 2005, in order to balance opinions and to present the views of the Catholic or, more generally, the Christian media, I will use “Tygodnik Powszechny” instead, as its editorial team actively participated in the discussion on the role of gender in the Church. I have conducted the analyses, using the method of the reconstruction of the linguistic image of the world developed by J. Bartmiński [1993, 2006, 2013] and attempting to develop a cognitive definition of the phenomenon by means of the profiling proposed by him. 

The term genderwas first used in the English language in the 14th century and it referred to grammatical gender. It was as late as in the 1970s that the term was also used to refer to the so-called concept of “social and cultural gender”. The term has appeared in the Polish language relatively recently. In the corpus of texts developed by the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2003, the term genderwas used only once while in the National Corpus of Polish in 2014 one can find as many as 132 examples of its use1. The rapid increase of its popularity can be even better illustrated by the numbers of its occurrences on the Internet. In 2003, the term gender occurred 4 240 times, and in 2014 — as many as 3830000002 times. 

Data acquired from the radio and press publications also indicate a considerable increase in the occurrences of this word in the media discourse, starting from the 1990s. Detailed information can be found in Table 1.

Table 1

Data concerning press and radio occurrences of the term gender

Newspaper / magazine titleDate of first occurrence in newspaper / magazine archiveArchive to 15.02.2003Number of occurrencesArchive to 15.02.2014Number of occurrences
Gazeta Wyborcza03.09.199601.19892312.01.2001749
Wprost19.09.199907.199845 (Wprost 24436000)
Życie19.12.200008.20002discontinued in 2005
The Polish radio8.11.2007 — 13.02.2014155

In the early years of the use of the term its foreign origin was stressed. In many texts, its definitions and transcription were provided. Authors discussing themes connected with gender also discussed political correctness, feminism and sexism, frequently relating to the debate on the laws and customs effective in the United States. It is only recently that in quoted sources one can find direct references to the situation in Poland.

The term gender can be understood as “a cultural distinction between masculinity and femininity”. The two main ideologies which have influenced the concept of doing gender derive from post-modernism and from identity politics. Theoretically different, they practically both belong to the anti-essentialist current which claims that both identity and gender are a social construct, permanently developing and incomplete, created anew each time a speaker says something.

The term gender occurs very frequently in its original English version, although traditionally Polish language speakers actually have two other words related to similar issues. These are: płeć — Eng. sex and rodzaj — Eng. gender. The new term is often translated as płećspołeczno-kulturowa [social and cultural gender], but this expression very rarely substitutes the shorter one, i.e. gender.

In press texts, gender started to appear ten years ago, mostly when they dealt with studies of cultural gender identity in Polish or foreign universities. The term was present in biographical notes, reviews, organization names, and very rarely in some other broader contexts. It was quickly adopted in the Polish language inflectionally and derivationally, and started to appear in such forms and collocations asgender philosophy, gender issues, gender criticism, genderwomen [Pol. genderowiczki], genderesses [Pol. genderki] [cf. Brzozowska 2003].

In the recent discussions, the most frequently used collocation is gender ideology — the media war flared up because of it. Its semantic field as well as the number of neologisms created by means of it have also grown considerably. Let us have a look at several contexts of occurrence of the term gender in the latest sources.

Currently, the word “ideology” has stuck to the term gender. The term “genderism” has been coined as it rhymes with Marxism, Communism, Stalinism. It is implied that gender researchers are the inheritors of the homicidal regimes, or at least the lefties. [Gazeta Wyborcza, 12.02.2014]

There is no gender category in Poland any more. At least in the media. A political dream has come true. We have gender ideology [Maciej Duda, 23.01.2014, http://​wyborcza​.pl/​K​a​t​e​g​o​r​i​a​_​g​e​n​d​e​r​_​p​r​z​e​g​r​y​w​a​_​z__ ideologia_gender].

Generally, gender is understood in Polish as cultural gender; colloquially, the word gender is declined. I personally have always preferred the Polish word ‘rodzaj’. Perhaps if we used this word as a translation, gender would bring other associations — not with the devil, but with the Book of Genesis (KsięgaRodzaju) [Gender biskupa Michalika, Joanna Bator, 13.12.2013, http://​wyborcza​.pl/​m​a​g​a​zyn].

“It is unacceptable to use the educational system in Poland to disseminate harmful texts blurring the differences between a woman and a man, which are introduced even at the nursery school level”, one can read in the council’s statement. Gender has become an element of the Polish war which nobody needs [Dorota Karaś, 17.01.2014, http://​trojmiasto​.gazeta​.pl/​S​o​l​i​d​a​r​n​o​s​c​_​_​w​a​l​c​z​y​_​z​_​g​e​n​d​e​r​_​_​_​S​z​e​r​zy_ szkodliwe_tresci].

It seemed that “gender ideology” would remain the last media and political spectacle of last year. It flew out of feature programmes, and reached churches, the Parliament, offices, schools, and even nurseries [Lidia Ostałowska, 31.12.2013, http://​wyborcza​.pl/​d​u​z​y​f​o​r​m​a​t​/​W​i​e​l​k​a​_​s​t​o​n​k​a​_​g​e​n​d​e​r​.​h​tml].

“Those who supported Marxism now support genderism, that is neo-Marxism; they have been transformed from communists into genderists, which is simple, since these ideologies are similar”, as Rev. Oko explained in an interview for KAI (23 September 2013), [Tygodnik Powszechny, Nagonkana gender, 29.12.2013]

The Minister for Equality explains what gender is, “because there is a considerable state of confusion” [http://​wyborcza​.pl/​M​i​n​i​s​t​r​a​_​d​s​_​_​r​o​w​n​o​s​c​i​_​t​l​u​m​a​c​z​y​_​_​c​z​y​m​_​j​e​s​t​_​g​e​n​der, 13.12.2013].

Archbishop Hoser presents the Church’s position concerning this issue: according to him, gender is “today’s anthropological heresy”, as “it questions biological gender” and “breaking up the elements of complementarity of a woman and a man, it also breaks up very important social relations and leads to society’s atomization” [Tygodnik Powszechny, 10.12. 2013].

In their pastoral letter for the last Sunday of 2013 (the Holy Family Sunday), the bishops severely criticized the “gender ideology”. They write, for instance: “The objective of gender education is essentially the sexualization of children and adolescents” [http://​tygodnik​.onet​.pl/​w​w​w​y​l​a​c​z​n​i​e​/​d​w​i​e​-​w​e​r​s​j​e​-​l​i​s​t​u​-​k​e​p​-​n​a​-​n​i​e​d​z​i​e​l​e​-​s​w​-​r​o​d​z​i​n​y​-​p​i​e​r​w​s​z​a​-​b​a​r​d​z​o​-​o​s​t​r​a​-​d​r​u​g​a​-​t​y​l​ko/, 20.12.2013].

I hope you will agree with me: gender is not governed by Christian order. Thus, there is nothing strange in the fact that the Christian Church fights with the manifestations of another order [Joanna Szczepkowska, 15.02.2014, http://​www​.rp​.pl/​D​o​-​M​a​g​d​a​l​e​n​y​-​S​r​ody].

Science discovers something, while gender only conceals something. It is an attempt to take total control of man through man’s sexuality. It is a promotion of barbarian hooliganism by means of EU funds and forced regulations which give privileges to homo‑, trans- and intersexuals [Eliza Olczyk 15.02.2014, http://​www​.rp​.pl/​W​a​l​k​a​-​n​a​-​s​m​i​e​r​c​-​i​-​z​y​cie].

A cognitive definition of gender

In order to formulate a cognitive definition of gender it is worth analysing collocations in which this word occurs most frequently and to pay attention to the proportions between neutral vocabulary marked positively, and vocabulary with negative connotations, which predominates (I have underlined the latter).

gender something: gender educator, gender constitution, gender classes, gender principles, gender postulates, gender subjects,the Gender Center Foundation, the Gender Encyclopaedia,
big gender potato beetle, gender edge, gender hysteria, little gender devil, gender virus, gender destruction also aims at the destruction of man’s identity, gender rejection means reducing human sexuality to biology
concerning gender: position concerning gender, an architect of the Polish church’s position concerning gender, the Episcopacy’s voice concerning gender,

gender ideology
gender ideology is a heresy, gender ideologists’ views are sick, gender ideology concept as public enemy number one, ideologization of the term gender is a moral malpractice, gender ideology poison, led the exacerbating campaign against “gender ideology” and “homolobby”, combating genderideology, introduces gender ideology in nursery schools, to promote gender ideology, “Stop gender ideology”, I do not discriminate gender ideology, Gender is not an ideology. It is a thought and tradition, There is no other “gender ideology” than the one which refers to women and men equality 

Gender something: Gender Studies, implement gender mainstreaming strategy
Gender for something: gender for Sunday
Something on/to/for gender: hunt for gender, hammer on gender, Eye on gender, antidote to gender, attacks on gender

Something on/about gender: war about gender, letter on gender, a fuss about gender, a fuss after a lecture on gender
Something against gender: fight against gender, in the fight against gender the point is the defence of man and society, school guards against gender

Gender is: gender is an enemy, gender is a screen, gender is poison, gender is Islam in Europe, gender is a mistake, gender is imagination and not dressing up,
Gender=666, Gender=death
Gender — destruction of man and family.
Gender — a blessing or a curse?
Gender is: gender is a synonym and a free configuration of all evil, gender is dangerous 

Adjective/ gender: history of Christian gender, forgotten Catholic gender, murderous gender,
Gender in: gender in practice
Gender like: gender like Herod, gender like Nazism

Gender for: gender for beginners
Gender where?
Gender in: gender in Kościeliska Valley, gender in schools
gender on the labour market

What does gender do: gender broadens the horizons,gender divides society, gender destroys identity, gender gets ready for defence, gender attacks, atheists, enemies of the church, gather around gender
What can one do with gender: spend money on gender, support gender, gender is supported by sex maniacs, the Church in Poland has officially condemned gender, defends gender in schools, NIK [the Supreme Chamber of Control] has detected gender, am I vaccinated against gender, run away from gender, dissociate from gender, nursery schools do not want gender, Tusk pushes gender to a niche, people terribly afraid of gender

Inflectional and derivational neologisms comprise, among others, the following examples:

Frightening with gender, gender hitting the educational system
Gender analyses, but there is no gender High Priestess, gender research, gender revolution, reality in gender version, gender campaign, Maria Skłodowska-Curie and MikołajKopernik Polish Gender Association
Genderism: affirmation of genderism, fighting against imagined genderism
Genderists, I am a genderist myself, very active ladies, genderists, the genderists’ child is the subject of production,
Anti-gender: anti-gender race, anti-gender team
Anti-gender: anti-gender course, anti-gender campaign
gender conference

The collected data show that two antagonistic perceptions of gender clash in the debate, and therefore, based on the presented material, it is not possible to formulate one coherent definition of the category. It is only possible to present its two faces, which share one common characteristic: they are grim faces because their supporters representing different beliefs and opinionsunanimously use war metaphors.

Gender 1 is a science connected with the exploration and popularization of knowledge concerning the social and cultural aspects of sex. It comprises social, artistic, educational activities oriented towards the equality of sexes as well as safeguarding the freedom of scholarly research and artistic expression. Gender is something that has to be defended and fought for.

Gender 2 is an ideology connected with blurring the gender category in order to weaken the traditional values, to break up families, to promote sexualization of children and homosexual relations. Gender is a threat (poison, illness), it is something that one should be afraid of and something that one should fight against.

Analysing the Polish media debate on gender, one can reach the conclusion that gender reveals society’s significant divisions connected with the values and philosophies of life represented by the various groups participating in the debate. These are important issues, and consequently politicians of various levels have been provoked to make comments — starting from parents of nursery school children, employees of the educational system, members of academic circles, ministers, through church officials and the Prime Minister, to the Pope. The tone of the discussion, which abounds in bilateral accusations and emotional expressions along with accompanying protests, proves that it is not easy for Poles to have a peaceful dialogue on important issues. The participants of the debate usually become even more radical in the course of particular disputes, limiting their attention to arguments whichconfirm their own beliefs. I think, however, that the very fact of initiating a dialogue has an important impact on the broadening of social awareness and the stimulation of reflection on this important issue.

I ended my previous article with a conclusion that “for a wide group of Polish language users,gender remains an unclear and incomprehensible term — and therefore, one that is not used and not useful”. Many years later, it should be added that the state of affairs has changed, as the term is ever better known and used, or even abused, but it is understood differently, depending on the values and the side of the ideological barricade occupied by particular users. One can only hope that the gender war will end with a truce accompanied by a wider awareness of both threats and benefits of debates on either grammatical or social/cultural gender.

1 www.ipipan.waw.pl/~corpus,15.02.2003, http://​nkjp​.pl/​p​o​l​i​q​a​r​p​/​n​k​j​p​-​b​a​l​a​n​c​e​d​/​q​u​ery, 15.02.2014.
2 google​.com, data as of 15.02.2003 and 12.02.2014.

© Brzozowska D., 2014