@Max, @Betajet: Trust me, in Spain there is an active polemic about using both genders at a time in public documents / speeches.
A political party proposed using the "@" for ending a word that could be gender biased. e.g. instead of using "ingenieros e ingenieras", you should use "ingenier@s" -- luckily enough, this is not very common today ;-)
There are tons of politicians today in Spain that use the same approach that Fox employed in Betajet example... "ingenieros e ingenieras, ciudadanos y ciudadanas..." I sincerely believe that this is against language economy, but I'm sure that most of the members of our "ruling class" don't know concepts such as language entropy ;-)
At least, we have had hillarious moments, such as the one in which our Minister for Gender Equality invented a new word when she spoke to the "miembros y ¿¿¿miembras???" (members) of the parliament -- now, she is often referred as "la miembra" ;-)
From what I can tell, the purpose of German genders is to maximize the effective use of pronouns by hashing all nouns into three genders in as random a way as possible. That way you can be speaking of three objects, and chances are pretty good that you'll be able to refer to all three with different pronouns.
My favorite example of German genders is that all dogs are male, all cats are female, and all guinea pigs are neuter.
On the other hand, French dogs and cats have both male and female forms.
But at least in the romance languages and other languages that are strongly gendered, there are many common nouns that were somewhat randomly assigned to be either masculine or feminine, but which have no gender bias at all -- so perhaps there is less sensitivity to gender bias in one's choice of words in those languages.
Could be. French, German, Italian, Russian, Latin, and lots of other languages, have genders for every noun. All have masculine and feminine, and German, Russian, and Latin also have neuter. But the genders do little to promote the cause of political correctness, simply because the gender is more or less arbitrary, whether we're talking about people or things.
For example, in Italian, "la porta" means "the door," feminine, and "il porto" means "the port," masculine. The gender changes the meaning entirely. In German, "die See," feminine, is "the sea," and "der See," masculine, means "lake." Kind of hard to get all up in arms about these, isn't it? In French, the word for "sand" is masculine, in Italian it's feminine. Conversely, the French word for "sea" is feminine, while in Italian it's masculine. In German, the word for "house" is neuter, whereas "window" is feminine. And hold on, the German word for "maiden," and all other similar diminutives, is neuter.
Not much rhyme or reason. In English, where we don't assign a gender to every single noun, the few that do have become the subject of controversy.
Sr Fox's prevalence to be inclusive by using both the masculine & feminine nouns was just as awkward as in English when we say "his or her" -- a habit of which I am often guilty, probably because I don't want to take the time to think of a clever sentence re-structuring that avoids gender altogether. But at least in the romance languages and other languages that are strongly gendered, there are many common nouns that were somewhat randomly assigned to be either masculine or feminine, but which have no gender bias at all -- so perhaps there is less sensitivity to gender bias in one's choice of words in those languages. I doubt that Mexican men were ruffled when Sr Fox referred to la gente Mexicana (the Mexican people), despite the fact that gente is feminine.
Despite the fact that gender bias in speech or writing may be politically incorrect, from an information theory standpoint, it is more efficient. Ingeniero (male engineer) or Ingeniera (female engineer) conveys more information than a hypothetical alternative word that is gender-neutral, and that extra information doesn't even cost extra letters :)
It's interesting how much our profession has changed over the years I've been an engineer. In school and in the earlier years of my career, female engineers were relatively scarce. Today I see substantial numbers of female engineers and work on projects with them at the office every day. As far as my knee-jerk reaction or visualization at hearing the word "engineer," it's more likely to be based on a particular individual engineer with whom I have recently had a technical conversation or problem-solving session, and it's just as likely that individual would be female as male.
Well, you could do a Vicente Fox imitation and say "ingenieros (y ingenieras)". When he was presidente of Mexico, his catch-phrase was saying "mexicanos (y mexicanas)" to be inclusive. Awkward, but inclusive :-)
In text I think you could get away with ingeniero/a without a visit from the Spanish Inquisition.
So what do you do in a language like Spanish that does not have neuter nouns? Engineer in Spanish is inginiero (male gender). You can say inginiera (a female engineer), but there's no gender neutral way to say engineer. Plural doesn't even help (inginerieros = engineers, inginerieras = female engineers). Likewise, "firefighter" translates as "bombero" (masculine). Person on the other hand is "persona" (feminine). So even using "person" instead of "man" (hombre, masculine) doesn't help in Spanish.