Despite the usage of “le” COVID-19 or “le” coronavirus in French conversation and news headlines ever since the plague became such a hot topic of discussion, the Académie française, never an institution to stay silent for very long when the French get too “buck wild” with their parlance, has spoken. And what they’ve said is this: the virus that everyone hates and has ruined all our lives is, well, a woman. Quelle fucking surprise. I mean, really, did we honestly think that a three hundred and eighty-five year old patriarchal establishment still comprised largely of old white men who like to refer to themselves as “the immortals” (mainly because patriarchy never dies) would let COVID be billed as male?
While the suggestion was “gentle,” one could hear the underlying condescension in their warning, “It is perhaps not too late to give this acronym back the gender it should have.” The gender it “should have” because everyone knows women are the plague that destroys lives just like corona, right? And we should just reflect that in the pronoun used for it, n’est-ce pas? Of course, what the Académie française is trying to use as the “logic” for their sudden intervention in how COVID-19 is referred to stems from the explanation that because it is the product of an acronym, wherein the primary word–in this case, “disease” or “la maladie”–of said acronym should carry the weight of the article before it, COVID is a woman. Just like God.
Meanwhile, everyone else was using “le” to define it by the germ (“le germe”), corona. But oh, the Académie has stepped in once again to prove its worth and superior knowledge of language, and how it can be wielded misogynistically so that everything with a negative connotation seems miraculously to bear a feminine pronoun (“la grippe,” “la peste,” “la grossesse,” etc.). So yes, thank heavens the Académie has stepped in to save us from ourselves and police this flagrant misuse of the very word that will come to define the rest of our lives, and the future of humanity.
Strangely, however, it took “the immortals” long enough to intervene in the matter, considering that both the World Health Organization and Canada (where the French language persists in that small Québécois pocket that the British couldn’t manage to infiltrate back in the day) have been using “la” this whole time. Even Canada, for fuck’s sake. The place we all know France views as wielding inferior French (which might get worse if the government there unwittingly kills off all their francophones with English-only labeling).
The ardency with which the Académie française has spoken on the matter of re-conditioning the public to use “la” instead of “le” before COVID-19 has seemed, in many ways, to set back all the progress they had made last year in finally “allowing” the usage of feminine versions of “male” professions like doctor (e.g. “le docteur” can now be written as “la docteure”). Alas, it’s always half a step forward and three steps back with old guard institutions such as these. But at least when a deferent speaker of the French language is on their deathbed with corona, they’ll know it was a feminine hand that dealt them this card.