M1: Unit 3: Chapter 5 – Gender Oriented Approaches

« back to unit 3

Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 5: Gender Oriented Approaches
Chapter 2: Gender and Translation Text 1: Ensler
Chapter 3: Gender and Language Text 2: Sappho
Chapter 4: Gender-related Metaphorics on Translation

Chapter 5 – Gender Oriented Approaches

Gender may not always be a relevant factor in translation – at least not on a conscious level. It mainly enters into play when the translator deliberately transforms the fact of gender into a social or literary project. Marginalised groups, such as women, lesbians or gays, may choose to assume the right to appropriate the language and use it to their own ends as writers, readers and translators, in order to attract the public attention to certain problems within the society.

Literary exchanges have been undertaken in the service of a wide range of cultural and political agendas and ideologies. However, this has usually been done ‘under cover’ throughout the history. Gender-conscious translation, on the other hand, flaunts its politics, publicising and promoting its ideology. The translators reclaim their decision making powers and use every strategy available to make the marginalised groups visible in language. Translation becomes a political activity, transformed from being a devalued form of cultural production into one that questions the nature of authorship, authority, and identity. Source texts, even canonical ones, begin to be queried from a gender-conscious point of view.

Among these approaches the main strands are feminist, woman-oriented and gay approaches, the former being the most ‘visible’ amongst the three. Therefore, this section will focus mainly on the ideas and work of feminist translators. Note however that not all of these translators are happy being referred to as ‘feminists’. Some prefer to refer to their own work as ‘woman-oriented’. Therefore, the main terms used below will remain as ‘gender-oriented’ or ‘gender-conscious’.

All the gender-conscious approaches to translation have one thing in common: they regard translation as an act of reading and writing, of constructing meaning by a specific historical subject, working within a specific context, at a specific time, and for a specific purpose. The source text carries the mark of its producer, which is also the mark of the ideological and cultural context of its production, so why not the translation? Thus, the translators declare their responsibility and positionality, highlighting a renewed sense of ‘agency’. Rather than being silent ‘sherpas’ or ‘ferrymen’ (see chapter 4.) translators feel the right to actively participate in doing things, causing things to happen, and producing an effect or change. Far from being blind to political and interpretative dimensions of their own project, they willingly acknowledge their interventions.

The strength of the gender-oriented project in translation partly arises from the fact that the participants are not only translators, but also public speakers, journalists, teachers, playwrights, publishers, and filmmakers bringing their ideas to the public in a variety of ways. They seek to translate experimental writing, often challenging the power structures, assumptions and beliefs. They aim at rendering visible what has been invisible before: the female body, women’s desires, and women’s writing. Women’s sexuality and eroticism from women’s point of view becomes a preferred area of experimentation in feminist writing and translation. Vocabulary previously censored or denigrated relating to parts of the female anatomy is redeemed. They use new words, spellings, grammatical constructions, images, metaphors, and genres in order to reach beyond the conventions of patriarchal language and poetics. Believing that language shapes women’s consciousness and creativity, they aim at reshaping the language. The notion of ‘womanhandling’ texts and language comes to the fore.

However, feminist translators claim that this ‘womanhandling’ nevertheless ‘derives’ its right to existence from the source text’s inspiration. After all, the source texts chosen are themselves challenging the way in which meaning is made, calling for an active process of re-writing. Here, of course, one cannot help but notice the everlasting influence of the concept of ‘fidelity to the source text’ in translation.

Gender-oriented translation stresses difference, deterritorialisation (text taken out of its territory), reterritorialisation (text given a new context in the receiving system), contamination (confluence of source and target languages), and multiplicity instead of a single fixed meaning. Translation stops being a ferry that carries across a fixed and hidden meaning in the source text, but becomes a fluid (re)production of meaning.

There are a variety of translation strategies which have been adapted for use in gender-oriented translation. Below are a few of them:

Supplementing or compensation: This is a frequently used strategy when it is not possible to translate a pun, a suffix indicating gender, a neologism, etc. in the source text. The translator then makes up for the ‘loss’ at another point in the source text, where it is possible to introduce a pun, a gender indicator, or a neologism.

Use of extratextual material: In order to move away from the ‘invisible’, self-effacing translator, gender-oriented translators provide plenty of extratextual material, such as prefaces, introductions, glossaries, commentaries, footnotes, endnotes, etc. They reflect on their own work; try to make the readers familiar with the process of translation, foregrounding the work of translation as a productive labour of creative cultural mediation; explain their motives and objectives behind the choice of source text; and elaborate on the significance of the source text writer, placing the source text in context.

Recovery: Gender-oriented translators aim at widening and reshaping the existing canon, which more often than not has favoured male writers, excluding women’s experiences. They ‘dig out’ the forgotten texts by women writers, translate and publish them, thus expanding and enhancing the literary repertoire of both the source and target systems.

Collaboration: In the work of gender-oriented translators, one often finds not a lonely struggle to ‘master’ the text, but the cooperation between two or more translators, or between the translator and the author. As translation is seen as a (re)production, the translators are regarded as ‘co-author’s, who appear on book-covers together with the source text authors. Translators claim their agency in the extratextual material or ‘metadiscourse’, but at the same time they can avoid the traditional dichotomy of author vs. translator which seeks control of meaning. Collaboration, especially with other translators, emphasise that meaning has to be constantly negotiated.

Gender-oriented translation has not been without its critics, of course. Those from the ‘outside’ label interest in ‘gender’ as ‘unscholarly’, not ‘objective’ or ‘universal’ enough – as if gender studies have not exposed these notions as misleading, even hypocritical. Also, the extratextual material accompanying the translations is seen as superfluous ‘noise’ that detracts attention away from the actual text. Within its own circles, however, gender-oriented translation has received a criticism of duplicity: trying to stick to a misguided notion of ‘fidelity’ to the source text, where it is least needed. A reader/translator cannot avoid being ‘unfaithful’ to the original. Open subversion cannot and need not be called ‘fidelity’. The main thing these translators can be ‘faithful’ to is their own gender-oriented translation project, which has found acceptance through university presses and publishing houses, i.e. ‘patrons’ specialising on women, feminism, and gay and lesbian issues. They also had sympathetic audience and critics. It has, in short, been a favourable framework in which to translate and publish.

Further reading: Arrojo 1994; Harvey 1998; Massardier-Kenney 1997; Simon 1996; Von Flotow 1997.

> Questions

> Tasks