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  • Writer's pictureClare Rainey

Translating Ideologies

Central to the notion of ethics is, of course, power and there is a marked link between power and ideology. The power that a writer wields through their words is undeniable. Both globally and historically, the use of censorship has been an integral part of control. Governments past and present have sought to ensure the ideologies they deem unacceptable are not made available to their people. For example, a study of ten source texts that were then translated into German and published by Eher, the Nazi Party publishers, showed that in all ten texts male detectives were portrayed as manlier and tougher than in their original language. Of particular note was how just how incredibly simple it had been to do this. The removal of an adjective or a slight shift in connotation was sufficient to reinforce the gender roles desired by the Nazis. This is how dominant ideologies come to be perpetuated. They are seen as 'common sense' rather than overt, explicit ideology. The less visible an ideology, the more powerful it is.

So, if a translator does not explicitly subscribe to a particular ideology, it is likely that they will automatically follow whatever the dominant discourse is. This in itself would suggest that the translator must act or be party to the diffusion of oppressive language. Sticking with the notion of gender, a feminist translator who regurgitates an inherently masculine voice that inferiorises women would both legitimise and maintain its dominance in discourse thus harming women. As an intentional act, whether a translator retains, say, damaging stereotypes or instead opts for more inclusive language, both options present themselves as a choice, a conscious form of action.

This brings us to the ever-prickly issue of fidelity in translation. From a feminist point of view, the term 'fidelity' is in itself problematic, conjuring up images of the obedient wife who must remain faithful to her husband in order to protect his progeny. Indeed, metaphors surrounding translation are heavily couched in binary, sexist tropes. On the one hand, writing an ‘original’ text is deemed creative and thus masculine, the progenitor of the text is its custodian. On the other, translating is merely reproduction, secondary and feminine. A shift, therefore, in the author-translator hierarchy is, metaphorically speaking, simply a repositioning of the patriarchal power relationship between the translator and the author. However, while fidelity and gendered translation do require a new understanding of ethics, it cannot be denied that such practices can be seen to constitute a double standard. Feminists suppressing an ideology they disagree with does indeed share characteristics with the controlling governments alluded to above. So, does the ends justify the means?

References and Further Reading

Arrojo, R. (1994). Fidelity and the gendered translation. TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 7 (2), 147-163. Retrieved from

Castro, O. (2009). (Re-)Examining Horizons in Feminist Translation Studies: Towards a Third Wave? (M. Andrews, Trans.). MonTI, 1. Available online:

Chamberlain, L. (1988). Gender and the Metaphorics of Translation. Signs, 13(3), 454-472. Retrieved from

Fairclough, N. (2013). Language and power. Retrieved from

Lane-Mercier, G. (1997). Translating the Untranslatable: The Translator’s Aesthetic, Ideological and Political Responsibility. Target. 9:1 43-68.

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