Intellectual neutrality is not possible in a world of exploitation and oppression. – Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza 
I have always been an avid reader. I remember arguing sometimes with my parents as a child because I wanted to read during lunch and spend the night awake just to finish a chapter. This was during the same time that I was learning English and Spanish. Books and articles (as well as songs and their lyrics) in these languages became part of my interests, and thus new worlds started to be part of my life. To this day, reading has always been a crucial part of my work and, consequently, of my writing process, whether it involves composing papers and reports or translating.
My research for writing this post led me to an article published less than a year ago entitled “Do Women Make Better Translators Than Men?” With a title so relevant to notions of gender and ideas that certain activities are better done by a certain gender, I began reading the full article.
Despite some references to studies affirming that a translator’s gender does not influence the accuracy and quality of a translation, the author concluded that women do make better translators, because:
- women can work from home and balance their careers with their personal lives, including children;
- women’s interpersonal and emotional skills are more developed, allowing them to deal with sensitive issues and people better than men;
- working remotely allows an environment free of gender discrimination; and,
- women’s ability to multitask is better than that shown by men, a skill the author considers key to translating.
The reasons presented by the author are not only embedded in notions of femininity, but also of masculinity. These powerful notions are closely tied together and influence our systems of thinking. For example, to affirm that working from home is an advantage to women so they can balance their work life and children reinforces characteristics and attributes expected from women – such as being the primary caregiver for the children. At the same time, this idea helps to perpetuate expectations related to men, such as being the primary source of income. (It also does not account for some many other possible settings of a household.)
To think about gender is to challenge many of our own attitudes, beliefs, and traditions, – and also those that surround us. It is crucial to understand that these are constructions based on socially determined systems of thinking rather than “natural” given ideas that we have to accept. These constructions reflect different relationships of power that work in various ways to oppress and erase the voice of certain populations living on the margins of our society. This helps us understand how the ideas of femininity and masculinity have been reproduced throughout the years. There is an urgent need to give voice to marginalized populations – not only women but also the LGBTQ population, immigrants, people of color, etc. – and to encourage discussions about gender and diversity at work, school, home, and in the media.
The good thing is that culture is not static; therefore, these systems of thinking are always changing. Translation plays a crucial role, especially in these times of globalization where we are all connected. Translators carry their own cultural values, but they are also responsible for checking them when translating by considering the original text and its origins. In addition, the translation industry itself needs to be held accountable, especially if we consider the situation in the academic and literary fields. Just to illustrate, we can think about how many more American authors have their books translated into different languages in comparison to Brazilian authors.
In a way, we can see how translation and gender can work together to dismantle barriers and paradigms that have been ingrained in our society by exposing a variety of voices and realities. Certainly, reading has defined who I am today and helps me to keep checking my own values and thoughts in order to avoid reproducing certain norms that have oppressed certain populations.
One last thing: no, women do not necessarily make better translators than men. However, it is amazing to experience so many initiatives that are creating a community of women willing to help each other to become better translators. Through mentoring, advising on how to deal with clients, sharing references and thoughts on terminology, and giving space to women share their experience and achievements, these women are helping others to improve their businesses and their lives. I’m happy to be experiencing these changes.
Graziele Grilo holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from State University of Campinas, Brazil, and a master’s of science in women’s and gender studies from Towson University, USA. She has worked as a freelance translator since 2012. Currently, she works as Senior Research Program Coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She loves cooking, Pearl Jam, and soccer – especially the São Paulo Futebol Clube, and is proud to be a feminist.
 Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza – “In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins” (1985).