Ido Plazental, a history and civics teacher at Ziv High School in Jerusalem, has an innovative way of raising gender awareness among his students: He addresses them all as female.
Native English speakers who are not familiar with Hebrew may miss the inventiveness of this form of speech. In Hebrew, as in many European languages, there is no such thing as a gender-neutral way of speaking. In Hebrew, you can’t say, “I’m playing with my friend” without revealing whether your friend is male (haver) or female (havera). All objects, people, pronouns and verbs must be in either male or female. This means that in order to address a group of people, “you” has to be either the male “atem,” or the female “aten,” which generally leaves one part of the group excluded.
Although some people play with the generally awkward he/she combinations, the predominant custom among most Hebrew speakers is to use the male form to address mixed groups. And while we may like to believe that when Israelis use the all-male form, they really mean to address men and women, in practice that is not always the case.
Many radio announcements will use female verbs to let you know that they are specifically addressing women. This is especially pronounced in the road safety advertisements. The Transport Ministry actually has different texts aimed at getting women’s attention versus getting men’s attention. I would like to offer some kind of intelligent analysis of the two versions, but I am so irritated by the fact that the only time people remember the women is when they want to suggest that we are are bad drivers, that I can barely even listen to the spot.
Claims that the male is by default just gender-neutral are dubious at best. This is just another example of women made invisible to make life more convenient for men