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Emerging during the period of “cultural turn”, the feminist translation theories is a school of translation studies with a strong sense of feminism, politics and culture. Characterized by its clear political requirement, the feminist translation theory is also a progress built up on the basis of traditional structuralism, providing a new theoretical basis for people to reconsider the norms in traditional translation theories and encouraging people to pay more attention to such issues as the right, the value orientation and the ideology in the work of translation. This essay attempts to examine the overall contributions of the feminist approach to translation. By investigating the critique on feminist work in Translation Studies, I aim at demonstrating that the subversion of traditional translation made by the feminist translation theories is brave and creative with long-existing influence.

To this end, I will first trace back to the interface between gender and translation, and then focus on the practice of feminist approach to translation, that is, its brave subversion of the traditional translation theory, through looking at how feminist translators challenge the traditional principle of subjectivity and fidelity. A discussion of feminist translation strategies will also be presented before I conclude that despite some criticism leveled against feminist translation theories from various aspects, we cannot ignore its significance on the development of translation studies and feminist practice will go on existing (Godard, 1990).

The Combination Of Gender And Translation

In the history of translation, the gender metaphor seems to be the foundation upon which many translation theories are built. The manner in which the writer and the translator relate, which is indeed a case of higher level and lower level, resembles the relationship between men and women in society. The French historian and Grammarian Gilles Menage created a pun in 1654 “les belles infidelles”, suggesting that the contrast between beauty and faithfulness of women is very much like the contrast between the elegance and the faithfulness of a translated text (Ilaria 2009). This scenario acts as the focal point of the combination of translation and feminism. Translation combines easily with feminism since it is a tool for women to fight against discrimination and for their rights (Ibid: vii).

As a new school of translation theory coming up in the wave of “culture turn” of translation research, the feminist translation theory is unique among the various traditional translational theories since its feminist politics appeal is clear and pronounced. The feminist translation theory traces its roots to a branch conference organized by the famous Australian feminist critic in 1986, Sherry Simon (1996), during a literal meeting whose aim was discussing and studying the feminist poetics. This became a milestone in studying translation theories, and the feminist translation theory sprung up after this conference as a special branch of translation and spread very fast to the whole of North America (Godard, 1990).

Theoretically, feminism has much in common with translation studies. Both emerging in 1970s and gaining increasingly institutional recognition through 1980s, feminism and translation studies are both concerned with the status of the secondariness: translation is traditionally considered to be derivative and inferior to the original, while women are always at a secondary position in the male-dominated society. Simon (1996:8) believes that they are also faced with such similar questions as what kinds of fidelities are expected of women and translators in relation to the more powerful terms of their respective hierarchies. As feminists seek to overthrow the submission of women to men, feminist translation theorists seek to subvert the power of the original over the translated text by reconsidering the function and value of translation in history. The latter is doing so by seeing a language of sexism in translation studies, which is full of terms such as “dominance”, “fidelity/faithfulness” and “betrayal” (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1990:9).

Ever since its presence, feminist translation theories seem to have provided translation studies with a brand new perspective and broadened the range of translation studies. The contributions that feminist translation theories have made to translation studies are various and worth investigating. In the following part, the author will illustrate the significance of the feminist translation theories by a detailed analysis of its subversion of the traditional translation theories of subjectivity and fidelity (Godard, 1990).

2.1 The Subversion of the Traditional Translation Principle of Subjectivity

The translation theory and practice has for a long time been seen as overstating the passive role of the main party in translation – the translator, thereby suppressing his subjectivity.  Under the constructional linguistics, the translation outlook was founded upon the elimination of cultural differences and the covering of the translator’s subjectivity. Any indicator of translation should not exist, and according to Venuti (1999), the translator should be completely invisible form the translated text. As suggested by Eugene A. Nida (1964), the receptors of the translated text should comprehend it in essentially the same way as the original readers understand and appreciate the text. As a result, the translators have been seen as “a servant, an invisible hand, transferring a language to another language mechanically.”(Barbara 1989: 94) This perception, to a great extent, denies translators their right to control texts and undermines the complexity and difficulties encountered in translations, which leads to discrimination of the translated text (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1990:9).

The feminist translators, on the other hand, stress on the importance of the translator’s subjectivity, arguing that translating does not mean the passive reproduction of the original text and the translator’s subjectivity is an integral part of the complex process of translation (Bowker, et. al., 1998a). It is evident that the feminist translators attach much importance to the disturbance of the translator’s subjectivity to the original text. This fact is an indication of these translators re-recognizing the authority of the translated text. 

Lawrence Venuti (1995) stated that almost all translations, no matter in the ancient times or modern times, religious or scientific, literature or non literature, have frequently adopted the translation method of domestication, striving to be “influent”. In this manner, the translator could remain invisible from the target audience by ensuring that the text is exceptionally smooth. This in turn pushes translators into a silent and invisible world where their identities can only be recognized through the original writer (Venuti, 1995).

The feminist translation theories, however, insist that translation is a remarkable way to establish the female identity politics because the translators are allowed to rewrite the translated text and make adjustments as well as distortion to the source text so as to “ make the feminine visible in language” (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1990:9). They claim that instead of being humble and invisible, women should violently “woman handle her own translated text. The feminist translator immodestly ‘flaunts her signature in italics, in footnotes - even in a preface’ (Godard1988: 50). All the feminist translators aim at is setting off their subjectivity, and translation is definitely an effective way to do it (Godard, 1990). 

2.2 The Subversion of the Traditional Translation Principle of Fidelity

The idea of faithfulness, or fidelity in another term, deeply affects the theory and practice of translation. Indeed, it is clear that one of the strongest principles governing the traditional translation theories. Ever since Nida’s theory of dynamic equivalence sprung, the equivalence between source language and target language has been given much attention, and much focus and discussion has been directed towards the perception of translation being as a form of art between production and reproduction (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1989:9). Traditional suggestions to translators have focused on the adoption of various means to produce an original and faithful rendition, or the possibility of producing a complete equivalence. This is because the quality of a translation is widely believed to be dependent on the fidelity of the translated to the original text, to a large extent.

The feminist translation theories also conform to faithfulness—being faithful to the writing of the female themselves but not to the source text or the target audience. Like Peter Newmark (1991), who argued that translators should ‘correct’ source material in the name of “truth” (ibid: 1), feminist translators ‘correct’ texts that they translate according to ‘feminist truth’. If translating is communicating, the female translators are no doubt the dominator of the conversation. Following their own standards of faithfulness, the female translators have been taking an active role in translation by peculating and controlling the text (Godard, 1990).

According to Godard (1990), the feminist translators clearly claim to have developed a keen interest in the endless rereading and rewriting, taking the responsibility of controlling the discourse. Under this banner of feminist writing strategy, all these matters, from rereading and rewriting to a genderized language and a disturbing role, have been given the power of subversion (Arrojo, 1994). Behind the traditional standard of “faithfulness”, there exist various languages belonging to different ideologies, the most obvious being the “dual depreciation”.  Simon once argued that the place of both women and translators has been marginalized, which is one of the challenges that feminist translators strive to fight. The “dual depreciation” puts women under men’s authority, placing them in a silent and invisible world. The subversion to this silent history and the “dual depreciation” is exactly what the feminist theory advocated by Simon aims at. In the efforts to attain this goal, the feminist translation undertook a research on how to resex a language, and push on to do away with the authorial construction that works to support the “interwoven theories” (Von Flotow 1991: 75).

In addition to this task, the rewriting of the “dual depreciation is very significant for the feminist translators.  This endows translation with the particular meaning and content in order to serve better the political agenda of recognizing women’s gender identity. The feminist translators have strived to reveal the clues of patriarchal ideology belonging to the traditional translating principle of “faithfulness” and violence of gender metaphor. Having done this, the prime goal of the feminist translators has now become to deconstruct this traditional “faithfulness” and to rewrite this tale of translation. Thus, a kind of “writing project” closely related to the “politics of gender” has replaced the traditional “text” and acquired a commanding power over the translators (Giusepe, 2009). As such, various adjustments to the text made by feminist translators which were previously unrecognized, or at least discouraged by traditional translators, proved to be acceptable and reasonable. Therefore, those adjustments have become an important part in the pursuit of identity recognition.

2.2.1 Subversion through Feminist Translation Strategies

Feminist translators adopt a variety of interventionist strategies, demanding a feminist creation of the translated text. Luise von Flotow has named and described three feminist translating strategies, namely, prefacing and footnoting, supplementing and hijacking. Prefacing and footnoting are frequently used by the feminist translators with the former manner most usually employed to explain the original meaning of the source text and make conclusion of their translation strategy in order to let the audience have a complete understanding of the translating process. This strategy is often employed by not only feminist translators, but also non-feminist translators, and this method has almost gained universal approval. Therefore, in the following discussion I will only focus on the other two methods.

2.2.1.1 Supplementing

 “Supplementing”, also called by some theorist as ‘compensation’ simply means to supplement ‘the differences between languages’ (Von Flotow 1991: 75). In the practice of translation, the feminist translators usually search and invent new words or change the original spelling of words. Using this way, the feminist translators strive to develop a new dimension beyond the traditional translation theory, and stand to be heard in their translation, advocating and defending their gender identity.

The language applied to the translated text of Canadian feminist writer Brossard’s masterpiece Sous La Langue made by Harwood has created as much breakthrough of language as the original text. For instance, Brossard had used the word “cypine” which is unknown to almost all. Harwood later pointed that this word, though used by some feminist translators in the 70s, has not been collected into any formal French dictionary since “the editor of the dictionary did not want the female to possess the word”. For this reason, she created a new word “cyprin” according to the origin in Latin of “cypine” and explained it with a whole page in the translated text.

Although feminist translators speak highly of its creativity, the strategy of ‘supplementing’ has attracted certain degree of criticism, mainly because it adds extra meanings to the original, especially the expressions related to gender and sexism. It is evident that this kind of manipulation does not conform to the traditional translation standards. Nevertheless, it can be argued that using this translating strategy, the feminist translators have managed to expand a new field of translation study. In this field, the feminist translators are the main participators in the work of translation, changing the traditional translation theories on the place of translators. And as Kate (2011) argues, the female’s voice can be clearly heard, calling for equal attention as man in the society, strong and full of hope and enthusiasm.

2.2.3 Subversion through Hijacking

According to Simon (1996:15), hijacking is a strategy that touches on ‘the more controversial and problematic aspects of translation’. It refers to the deprivation and appropriation of a text which contains little feminist intent. When faced with the texts of an opposite ideology, feminist translators stress that the translators are allowed to step into the in a comparatively radical way. They “correct” the writing of the source text in the name of meeting “the real identity of the female”, rewriting the source text by way of ‘hijacking’ (Munday, 2001).

A good example of this assertive interventionist translation practice is de Lotbiniere-Harwood (1989)’s translation of Lise Gauvin’s masterpiece Lettre’s D’un Autre, a text in which Gauvin used numerous masculine nouns. When Harwood translated the text, she made a great many changes of these, such as changing the word “Quebecois” into Quebecoises- creating a new word by appropriating the existing one. She also made corrections to the word order in sentences, clearly demonstrated by the use of “her and his”  “women and men” in the sentences, so as to change the “normal male language” arrangement norms. By doing so, she seeks to make women visible and resident in language and society, which is what feminism aims to achieve (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1989:9).

However, it should be noted that the strategy‘hijacking’ has also been the target of criticism addressed to feminist translation. Arrojo cites the use of the term ‘hijacking’ in his criticism of feminist ‘double standard’ (von Flotow 1998:82); David Homel also applied the term negatively to the work of Lotbiniere-Harwood’s interventionist work Letter d’une autre. It was only through the efforts by commentators Flotow and translators, such as Godard that the term is recuperated and finally become a label of feminist translation, describing the process by which a feminist translator adopt ‘corrective measures’ to the text in order to construct feminist meaning(ibid: 82). 

Apparently, when this unique translation strategy is applied to the whole text, radical changes will surely be observed in the original nature and style of the source text. The readers will thus hear the female’s voice, which is completely different from the author (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1989:9). In traditional translation, however, a justified translation should reach the extent that the target text readers in an ideal and perfect situation appreciate and understand it in essentially the same way as readers of the source text do. The feminist translators, as opposed to the traditional equivalence theory in translation, take an active part in the translation work, thus creatively subverting traditional translation principle with strong will (Castro, 2009).

With increasing numbers of new schools of translation theories coming up in today’s academic world, observing how women translators strive in their translation becomes interesting. This is especially so since they do it enthusiastically despite that they may have inherited double inferiority. Their striving proves how important and necessary the role of feminist translators is in upgrading their social status (von Flotow 1998:82). However, the feminist theory is not without deficiencies that should not go unquestioned, and lavishing praises on its merits is not proper. The issues of the translation strategy of hijacking and fidelity are still the most criticized in the feminist translation theoretical system. However, from the analysis above, it is evident that the feminist translation theory contributes a great deal to the theory and practice of translation (Munday, 2001). The combination of feminist and translation have made a strong impact not only on the field of translation, but even ‘ across the humanities and social sciences, lending further credence and power to the gendering of other disciplines and discourses ‘(von Flotow2011:3).

Instead of being invisible in the translated text, the feminist translators subverted the traditional translation theories and try to reveal their existence in translation. The feminist translation theories have led people to discover the negative side of the traditional translation theories (Godard, 1990). By using various translation strategies, they aim to manipulate and even take possession of the original texts. Therefore, we should appreciate its significance on the emergence of translation studies. The connection between translation and gender leads to a wider view and brings vigor for translation studies (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 1989:9). Like most disciplines, feminist translation theory will continue to contribute to the progress of culture, the equality of men and women and the overall civilization of the society. 

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