Choosing to write your content in inclusive language is an important editorial decision. It embodies a vision of gender representation in language. Inclusive writing, however, has an impact on a website’s positioning in search engine results pages. The challenge of gender-neutral writing is to be both readable and visible to internet users.
What Is Inclusive Writing?
Inclusive writing is a linguistic practice aimed at promoting gender equality: both feminine and masculine genders. By modifying traditional writing conventions, it seeks to:
- Deconstruct gender stereotypes that have been ingrained in French since the 17th century.
- Reintroduce grammar and spelling rules that have been overlooked over time.
- Add grammatical forms that make the presence of both genders explicit.
Although the term “inclusive writing” only gained prominence in France around 2016, it has existed in English since the 1970s. While various forms of inclusive writing are becoming more known and employed in French, the debate about its use is still lively. There are several resistances to inclusive writing:
- Aesthetic degradation of written content due to visual gender markers.
- Ineffectiveness in promoting gender equality through writing.
- Resistance to the evolution of French as a living language.
- Fear of forced use of inclusive writing.
- Technical difficulties, especially in terms of SEO.
How to Write Your Content in Inclusive Language
Even though inclusive writing is often summarized by the use of the midpoint (point médian), it can take various forms. Here are 5 rules for writing web content in inclusive language.
The Midpoint : A Point of Contention
Let’s start with the aspect that has garnered the most attention from opponents of inclusive writing: the midpoint (point médian). This typographic symbol appeared in the late 2000s to avoid using existing punctuation marks that carry meaning:
- Parentheses: étudiant(e)s
- Hyphen: étudiant-e-s
- Period: étudiant.e.s
The midpoint is a specific way to abbreviate both genders. Despite what its opponents claim, the midpoint is not pronounced. You write étudiant·es and pronounce it as étudiantes et étudiants.
To make reading easier, the midpoint is only used to distinguish between feminine and masculine forms. Therefore, there is no midpoint after the feminine gender marker.
Double Flexion: A Political Communication Classic
Double flexion, or dual gender marking, involves including both feminine and masculine grammatical forms when there is no neutral writing for a word.
One of the most notable uses of this technique is in political speeches with the well-known “Françaises, Français” (French women, French men). However, some professions have the same spelling regardless of gender: architecte (architect), ministre (minister), etc.
Epicene Terms: The Solution for Lightening Web Content
Epicene terms maintain their gender regardless of the individuals they refer to; they are gender-neutral. Here are some examples:
- population (population instead of habitantes and habitants)
- teaching staff (corps enseignant instead of enseignantes et enseignants)
- students (élèves instead of étudiantes et étudiants)
- audience (audience instead of lecteurs et lectrices)
- freelance (freelance instead of indépendantes et indépendants)
Alphabetical Order Over Gallantry
Gallantry dictates that the feminine gender should be mentioned before the masculine. Even though this goes against our habits, inclusive writing recommends listing terms in alphabetical order:
- femme et mari (woman and husband)
- égalité femme-homme (gender equality)
- Jennifer et Jonathan (Jennifer and Jonathan)
- Marc et Sophie (Marc and Sophie)
- étudiantes et étudiants (female and male students)
Agreement of Proximity: How to Get Lost
The agreement of proximity is the most challenging aspect to apply because the rule that masculine takes precedence over feminine is deeply ingrained in our minds. However, this grammar rule is relatively recent. Until the 17th century, participles and adjectives were agreed upon following the rule of proximity, meaning the agreement was made with the nearest noun.
In practice, this would result in sentences like “Le directeur et les enseignantes sont décidées à faire grève” (The director and the female teachers are determined to strike). For many of us, this would be considered a grammatical mistake. Therefore, the sentence would need to be rephrased by placing “directeur” (director) in the second position. What about alphabetical order?
In reality, all these rules are rarely used simultaneously. They should be followed with the understanding that the most crucial aspect is the production of content that is understandable to everyone.
What Is the Impact of Inclusive Writing on SEO?
According to an article from Sémantisseo, search engines do not consider certain inclusive spellings (period, hyphen, midpoint, etc.). For them, the word “développeur·euse” is actually composed of two elements, “développeur” and “euse.” Therefore, only the masculine form of the word will appear in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). Algorithms do not really take inclusive writing into account.
To optimize your positioning on the SERP, it is better to avoid using inclusive writing in:
- The title tag (balise title)
- Subheadings (h2 to h6)
- The URL
- The meta description
However, the use of inclusive writing in the body of the text is entirely possible. This enriches the semantic field of the content, which is a crucial element for SEO. You can even alternate between feminine and masculine forms to give more weight to your editorial content.
Thus, inclusive writing offers the opportunity to explore the richness of the French language. It also enhances the semantic field around a keyword. Consequently, it has a positive impact on your natural referencing (provided you avoid using it in tags and titles).