Is your software product talking to women (*) as if they were men?

(*) In fact, persons who prefer to be addressed as feminine in languages with grammatical gender.

Porque llevaba trenzas… by Sergi Bernal. © All rights reserved


If you are developing a software product for registered users, are you supporting grammatical gender? Lack of this support happens to be fine in English and other languages without grammatical gender. It is also fine for the speakers of all the rest of languages, as long as they are fine being addressed as masculine. Now, what about their feminine colleagues?

My morning vanished while writing and posting this message in the very welcoming friendly community space of an impressive and lovely free software project. I am picking these adjectives carefully and I really mean them. I am having a great time using that software and participating in that community, and this is why I invested this morning (of a busy day) in a single post.

Then I thought that perhaps this post could be recycled for other software products. In my casual search early today, I didn’t find as many articles as I wished about grammatical gender in software development. Here goes a small contribution (and humble, since I am not a specialist). I hope someone finds it useful.

Agreeing that gender in translations is a problem

Without consensus about the root problem, the discussion about implementation will be unnecessarily complicated. Experiences of fluent English speaking men cannot be taken as a reference for how is the user experience for non-male users using software in languages with gender differentiation.

About half of the World population would like to be addressed as a female if possible. I didn’t count speakers, but languages with grammatical gender are more frequent than not. This seems to be true for the current list of languages available for our_project, a clear indication of which speakers are using our_project today.

Agreeing that it is not an urgent problem

Indeed, I am not suggesting that we should stop everything to solve this problem.  our_project probably doesn’t have that many strings subject to grammatical gender in other languages, and in the meantime translators can find workarounds (as they have probably done in the meantime). Recognizing the problem and a willingness to solve it would be a big progress in itself.

One suggestion is to accept reports of problems related with grammatical gender as bugs, while the implementation of a technical solution is agreed and implemented. Suggestions for workarounds would be welcome (i.e. adapting a translation whenever possible) but they would be considered just that, workarounds in the interim. Welcoming these reports would help understand better the problem.

Gender information and privacy

I bet we can agree that preferred gender identification would be a user preference only, used for the purpose of providing a better user interface. That information would remain private, not visible in user profile, user lists, or any public page.

Defining gender preference

Our goal is not to identify people’s gender orientation (a rather complex topic) but to simply offer a language that corresponds to the gender preference of the user. The question is not “what is your gender” but “How do you prefer to be described?” (MediaWiki), “Choose the pronoun you prefer” (Phabricator) or something along these lines.

This setting could be disabled by default, since English is the default locale and (as far as we are aware) it doesn’t have this problem in our_project. Then specific languages could have it enabled out of the box.

How to fix buttons and other text strings in the UI

I believe the solution is not to have separate locales for male and female (a probable nightmare for translators) but to introduce variables in strings where gender variation happens. However, I am not a software developer, so it is easy for me to talk. :wink:

The good news is that our_project is not the first project dealing with this problem, and recyclable solutions probably exist. MediaWiki (probably the free software product translated to more languages, supporting grammatical gender since 2010) has developer documentation for PHP and JavaScript. If you are interested, I can put you in touch with their developers specializing in internationalization.


So yes, fixing the entire problem is not simple, but I have no doubt that it is worthy. In the past, non-male participants in web forums were hard to find (and non-male software developers too, who might have a special incentive to work on this), but things are luckily changing. Very successful “forum” (aka “social network”) products are very good at handling gender diversity and (surprise surprise) their communities excel at gender diversity among their membership. our_project would benefit from taking the contemporary products and the contemporary trends as reference, not the products and trends that were designed and thriving in the so-male-centric Internet of 10-15 years ago.

Capitalism, explained by Jonathan Wolff

It has been an ins356px-zentralbibliothek_zc3bcrich_das_kapital_marx_1867tructional pleasure to listen a lecture on Capitalism by Jonathan Wolff, organized by the Forum for European Philosophy at LSE. I got it as a podcast for free, and it accompanied me this weekend at times, while driving or cooking. If you can afford one hour of your time and 37 MB in your audio capable device, I strongly recommend it. Whether you are happy, unhappy, or all mixed up with capitalism, this historical and contemporary overview including opinion for improvement might serve you as a basis to develop further thoughts of your own. I learned something. Thank you Mr. Wolff!

Gemüsekoop starts delivering vegetables

After a first test a couple of weeks ago, yesterday Gemüsekoop started distributing vegetables grown in Cologne to its members. We got feldsalat, rucola, baby spinach, and curly parsley. All very green and tasty, just pulled a few hours before!

Yesterday’s distribution of vegetables by Gemüsekoop at Tante Olga, in Sülz (Cologne, Germany).
Our family’s bag.

A real hero smuggling toys for children, from Finland into a war

When we lived in Helsinki, my dear partner had this group of friends in the gym. One of them was Rami, a Syrian-Finnish good man. Yesterday I learned that Rami had left his relatively comfortable and quiet middle-class life in middle-class Helsinki to fight for his cause in the Syrian civil war. Nobody recruited him, he started his own commando. In the past years and still today, Rami is risking his life to smuggle toys for children. Toys donated in Finland, transported to Turkey, and then carried through one of the most dangerous borders that humans stupidly keep nowadays.

As a father of two children who have got all the toys they wanted and more in the past holiday, I feel deeply humbled by Rami’s example and the reality he shows to us. The least I can say is Thank You.

Please watch by yourselves:

The Scientific Tale of Author Beatrix Potter

This morning I listened The Scientific Tale of Author Beatrix Potter (Science Friday, 17:11 minutes). According to English Wikipedia, Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her children’s books featuring animals, such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” Interested in Potter’s scientific illustrations, I tried to find them in Commons, to no aval. Allegedly, at the time  this impressive woman contributed her works to science without asking for any retribution. I guess those works are in the public domain since 2013?

The Armitt museum (Ambleside, England) offers a diverse and beautiful sample of Beatrix Potter’s scientific illustrations.

NPG P1826; Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis) by Charles King
Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis), by Charles G.Y. King (1854-1937) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.