Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?

Well, it’s come to this. A pro-choice feminist has hounded an abortion doctor and advocate on Twitter for using the phrase “pregnant person” instead of “woman” when arguing with people who are against abortion–and with people who thanked Dr. Torres for being inclusive in her language.

There were a couple of reasons given for this hounding. The first being that inclusive language erases women as being the primary recipients of abortions a la “All lives matter”. As Jason points out, that argument has problems.

The second argument given is that using inclusive language when talking about abortion obscures the sexism and misogyny that have pushed the political fight against abortion rights. This is also wrong, but I’ve seen it cropping up more frequently lately. That makes it time to deal with it.

The best formulation of this argument I’ve seen was Katha Pollitt’s in March. In her article, she offered mechanisms by which this erasure could happen rather than just an assertion that the erasure is inherent in word usage. Hers also seems to have been the article that crystallized many feminists’ objections to gender-neutral language around abortion (though some of them go further than Pollitt, who explicitly argues for inclusivity in advertising services). Given that, I’ll address her arguments here.

Maybe in ten years, it will seem perfectly natural to me to talk about abortion in a gender-neutral way. Right now, though, it feels as if abortion language is becoming a bit like French, where one man in a group of no matter how many women means “elles” becomes “ils.”

When this article came out, several people pointed out that English pronouns are not gendered in the same way French pronouns are, meaning we don’t run into this problem in our language. I think that’s missing Pollitt’s point, however. Rather than this being an argument about language, I believe she was referring to the way men are considered the default where gender isn’t specified. Unless we talk specifically about women, we are assumed to be talking about men, even in the absence of pronouns that make that explicit.

Still, I disagree with this as a reason not to use inclusive language for a couple of reasons. The first is that pregnancy is probably the least likely context in which “people” could be taken to mean exclusively men. We already treat “pregnant person” and “woman” as congruent to the point of erasing infertile and post-menopausal women by using “women” as a stand-in for people who can get pregnant. I’m not worried that we’ll forget women are in the majority when we speak about abortion.

More than that, challenging the default assumption that “people” means “men” is feminist work, and it is feminist work that aids us in the rest of our goals. As long as a group of women has to be differentiated from a group of “people” in order to be recognized, our full human rights are always in doubt. Yes, “people” means us, whoever else it means, and the sooner everyone learns to hear it that way the better.

That doesn’t mean we prioritize changing the meaning of language over immediate political concerns, but we aren’t being asked to do that. Advocating for abortion rights in inclusive language is working toward both goals at the same time.

Why can’t references to people who don’t identify as women simply be added to references to women? After all, every year over 2,000 men get breast cancer and over 400 die, and no one is calling for “women” to be cut out of breast-cancer language so that men will feel more comfortable seeking treatment. If there was such a call, though, I wonder what would happen. Women have such a long history of minimizing themselves in order not to hurt feelings or seem self-promoting or attention-demanding. We are raised to put ourselves second, and too often, still, we do.

We could follow the pattern of communication we use for breast cancer in abortion advocacy. However, we should acknowledge the cost of doing so. The way we currently communicate about breast cancer means that men are likely to delay diagnosis and treatment, which in turn, leads to higher mortality. There is an argument to be made that the way we talk about breast cancer needs to be more inclusive rather than less. Setting men to the side here sees them too often left out altogether.

Nor is that an anomaly. As feminists, we spend a lot of time arguing that representation matters–and we’re right. (Update: For a trans person’s perspective on Pollitt’s argument, see this from Crip Dyke.) We should, at the very least, be hesitant and thoughtful about choosing to make any group an apparent afterthought in communication on issues that affect them. Sometimes there are good reasons to do it, but it isn’t a principle we should be encouraging per se.

There are broader questions of political language here. One organization tweeted that one in three “people” has had an abortion—actually, if we’re talking about people, it’s more like one in six. When the actress and feminist advocate Martha Plimpton organized an abortion-fund benefit lightheartedly named “Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” some activists were outraged, because some trans men don’t like that word (“birth canal” or “front hole” are favored alternatives to the V-word). Trans men should refer to their genitalia however they like, but it’s hard not to feel that there’s something seriously awry when women, who only got to call their genitals by the proper term in public a decade or so ago, are supposed to stop naming them in order to avoid offense.

As I said, sometimes there are good reasons to feature particular words that are less inclusive. The second example here could have been one of these if the event in question were about overcoming culturally induced shame of one’s genitalia, but it was merely a celebrity comedy event with ticket sales funding abortion services. Additionally, the arguments were that use of “vaginas” was unnecessarily reductionist in a way many women found objectionable and some trans men found to induce gender dysphoria.

The first instance is simply a misstatement. Do these happen more when language is shifting? They do. Much of our language use is reflexive and patterned, and it takes work to make sure we don’t say something silly when language changes–any time language changes. That hasn’t stopped us from pushing to stop calling adult women “girls”, even though it has occasionally resulted in unthinking howlers where prepubescent girls were referred to as “women”. This is an argument for taking care with our language as it shifts, but it’s not a reasonable argument for freezing usage at any given point in time.

That said, yes, there are times when it can be useful to refer to women as a class and be more inclusive on the side. I’ve done that myself in the context of talking about arguments against abortion rights. When I represent those arguments accurately, I use “women” because the people making those arguments don’t recognize the validity of gender identity separate from assigned sex. Then I explicitly call out that their arguments fail to make that distinction and that it’s not an oversight on their part. I do that both because I consider representation and inclusion to be important and because it highlights how poorly their arguments reflect the complexity of the real world.

I want our feminist messaging to be better than that. I want it to reflect complexity and messy reality, because that tells us that it’s more interested in the people affected than the abstract principle. When we’re making a human rights argument, that counts.

The real damage of abolishing “women” in abortion contexts, though, is to our political analysis. What happens to Dr. Tiller’s motto, “Trust Women”? There was a whole feminist philosophy expressed in those two words: women are competent moral actors and they, not men, clergy or the state, are the experts on their own lives, and should be the ones to decide how to shape them. It is because abortion gives power specifically to women that it was criminalized. How did Selina Meyer put it on Veep? If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM.

Men can get pregnant, if they’re trans. Where’s my ATM?

If that sounds flip, it’s not any less so than the statement it’s responding to. Yes, there is political analysis behind Selina Meyer’s statement, but that statement is meant only as a starting point. It’s also a riff on Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate“, originally published in 1978.

For 1978, this was a groundbreaking work of popular political analysis. It isn’t, however, where we are today. We’ve moved beyond a point where we would think that if only black men could get pregnant, that would make abortion care VIP service. We don’t think that if only poor men could get pregnant, the world would be rearranged to make their lives easier. Gay men? Did you see the work that had to be done to convince anyone it was even worth saving their lives in the 1980s? We also know now that the ability of trans men to become pregnant doesn’t change the politics.

Real modern political analysis tells us that the world is designed to revolve around the needs of a relatively small group of men at the intersection of several privileged identities and that everyone else gets some mostly if it will help pit them against each other instead of those at the top. That’s the reality we have to grapple with. That’s the situation we face when we plan campaigns, either political or educational. Endorsement of 1970s political thought is best left to laugh lines in sitcoms.

Moreover, there is power in arguing for broader and more fundamental rights. Yes, call out the idea that women are less trustworthy as absurd and bigoted, while recognizing that the argument affects people who aren’t women. Then imagine a world in which we understood that trans people should be trusted to make the best choices for their own bodies even if we don’t understand why they make those choices. Imagine how hard it would be to argue that the understandable, relatable reproductive choices women make should somehow still be suspect.

A more broadly recognized right is harder to undermine, which is why we argue now against the “good abortion” narrative. A narrower right is always subject to being nibbled away. Being inclusive is its own reward politically, which shouldn’t be surprising.

“Trust people to steer their own bodies” is less bumper-sticker friendly, but this isn’t ultimately about bumper stickers. It’s about making the world a better place for people who are pregnant or face the possibility of becoming pregnant. Beyond just being a question of fairness, using inclusive language helps us at nearly every turn.

Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?

45 thoughts on “Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?

  1. 1

    Jason Thibeault refuses to link to her blog, as is his prerogative and yours, but you won’t even state her *name*?

    Her name is Ophelia Benson, and she used to blog at FTB. Whatever may have happened between the two of you, to refuse to name a person is a frightening act of dehumanization.

  2. 2

    Refusing to name her makes it about the argument, not her as a person. You know, since she seems to think every criticism is a devastating personal attack, not naming her removes that possibility.

  3. 3

    Jason Thibeault – thank you for your reply, I understand your point. However, since, at a minimum, the vast majority of people reading this post will know to whom the post refers, one can not in good faith portray it simply as a difference between arguments. By refusing to name Ms. Benson, the “pro-choice feminist” we all know Ms. Zvan is talking about, Ms. Zvan renders Ms. Benson, to use a strong analogy, an “unperson.”

    It is my opinion, Ms Zvan, that you ought to show Ms. Benson the human decency of referring to her by name.

  4. 5

    Ophelia Benson is wholly and entirely a person. She is, however, after she’s unfriended and blocked me and left or seen me booted from most of the places where we would interact, someone I have no idea how to address. I hate the formality of reverting to “Benson” after we went through several years of supporting each other very closely. I don’t know that she’d still care to be “Ophelia” to someone she’s worked that hard to cut out of her life. So I skipped the question, since the post isn’t about her but the argument and I already spent my birthday yesterday not writing while fretting over something that should be tiny but isn’t.

    Thanks for making it out that I’m a monster for not knowing how to cope, though. Exemplar of decency. Go you.

  5. 6

    Ms. Zvan does name Katha Pollitt, and does address Ms. Pollitt’s arguments, but if you want me to think that the first two-three paragraphs are not a referral to Ms. Benson and her writings, and that what she wrote was not the impetus to the rest of the post, well, I would ask that you not waste your time trying to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.

  6. 7

    Ms. Zvan – thank you for your reply. I really do appreciate it, much as my words may indicate otherwise. It is personal and heartfelt, and that is often more than one gets.

  7. 8

    It is more than you would usually get and far more than you’re owed. Now, stop fucking reading persecution into everything having to do with her and accusing people who are still trying to cope of with the fallout of all this of trying to make her life miserable. That is, in fact, the minimum we should get.

  8. 9

    This is far too many posts in a row, so I completely understand if you choose to trash it. Having said that:

    I should have given more thought to the connection you and Ms. Benson might once have had. I apologize for not having done so. It is impossible for me to know what difficulties you have faced in the light of the severing of that relationship, but that does not excuse my jumping to a conclusion about your dismissal of her. I also had some pretty rough things happen on my recent birthday, of a similar nature, so I sort of understand the rawness. Again, I could not know that that was what you were going through, but that doesn’t excuse my assuming things, um, “not in evidence.”

  9. 10

    I think it’s usually a good idea to step away from slogans when you’re trying to do advocacy. Admiteddly I mostly think that because of what an absolute failure “born this way” was for the bulk of the queer community but I don’t see why I shouldn’t extrapolate.

    We’ve moved beyond a point where we would think that if only black men could get pregnant, that would make abortion care VIP service. We don’t think that if only poor men could get pregnant, the world would be rearranged to make their lives easier. Gay men? Did you see the work that had to be done to convince anyone it was even worth saving their lives in the 1980s? We also know now that the ability of trans men to become pregnant doesn’t change the politics.

    This really hits to the core of what’s wrong with Pollit’s arguments and centralizing misogyny to the exclusion of other forms of oppression. I don’t think it’s a mistake to say the GOP gets it better than a lot of feminists and certainly the Democratic party has. It isn’t a coincedense they’ve taken advantage of racist memes like “the welfare queen”. They picked up on the fact that rights are never universal across all population groups.Their attacks (plural) weren’t limited to Roe v Wade, the GOP hit every intersection they could until we hit the point where in much of the US abortion isn’t something women outside of wealthy families can safely take advantage of.

  10. 13

    To get to a more general point of inclusivity versus exclusivity, I have serious concerns about any person or group advocating for their own rights while being indifferent or antagonistic towards other (usually even more oppressed) groups. Some people seem more interested in carving out their own space to oppress others, to grab tightly onto their own unearned privilege and see if they can’t get closer to the most oppressive class, rather than working towards tearing down the entire unfair system. “Screw you I’ve got mine” seems to be the mindset behind certain types of activism, and it is garbage if all you want to do is change the system so you have a higher place in it while leaving other people to remain an underclass you can shit on.

  11. 14

    (Hello, I’m new here.)

    This might be more of a linguistic idea than a political one so it could be a bit beside the topic but I found the gender assumptions of the word “people” interesting. I definitely do get why in this case it’s replacing the word “women” which is conventional in the context of abortion but I don’t see it corresponding to the French gender logic since “people” really is neutral, unlike “ils”. Also, as you said, the context makes sure that nobody will default to assuming that “people” in thid case are male. It’s more likely to be the other way around.

    But going a bit further with the word “people” (and “person”) I actually kind of feel like it seems to imply women (or at least non-male people) more than men exactly because men are the default. Maybe not so much nowadays since it’s more common but still. “People” replaces “men” much more often than “women”, since a lot of our language use used to not just imply the male default but outright use male words. So sometimes even now “people” (and even more so “person”) makes me vaguely think that the people in question are more likely to not be men because otherwise the speaker might not have bothered. Or at least it reminds me of the fact that it’s replacing “men”.

    Like I said, this is even more so with the singular: “chairperson” for example, especially referring to a specific person, tends to register in my mind as vaguely female or possibly nonbinary. I don’t think about a man when I hear it because my brain assumes that a man would have been a “chairman”.

    Of course there are times when the male expectation is stronger than this vague impression. A lot of the time even. But I still don’t feel like “people” implies male.

    And of course I might be biased in many ways. I’m not a native English speaker, history is one of my favourite hobbies so I run into the general “man/men” more than the average person might, and I’m just very much in favour of non-gendered or gender neutral terms in general so I might be defensive about them.

    (I do realise that neutral language can sometimes erase non-male people, though, because of the male default assumption, and that is problematic. I get why it’s an issue, I just don’t like the solution of using unnecessarily gendered terms even when it might be the best for some situations. I’d really rather approach the issue from a different direction to get to the point where there’s no male default.)

    Anyway, as for your actual post: I agree with pretty much all of it.

  12. 15

    Maybe in ten years, it will seem perfectly natural to me to talk about abortion in a gender-neutral way. Right now, though, it feels as if abortion language is becoming a bit like French, where one man in a group of no matter how many women means “elles” becomes “ils.”

    […] I believe she was referring to the way men are considered the default where gender isn’t specified. Unless we talk specifically about women, we are assumed to be talking about men, even in the absence of pronouns that make that explicit.

    I disagree with your summation of this point, though it’s possible I’m misreading the point due to my lack of French knowledge. It seems to me that French has a different word for a group depending on whether it is wholly women, or mixed. A large group of women will be referred to as such, but adding even a single exception to this means the language changes, and thus it is no longer clear from the language used that the crowd is very heavily weighted towards women; the language used makes it appear to be quite mixed. The argument continues that this is analogous to the issue of abortion rights: making [the crowd / the issue of abortion] appear to be much more mixed than it actually is can be seen as removing women from an issue that is extremely closely linked to womanhood.

    So, exactly the same as what Ophelia is saying.

    ‘Women’ incorrectly implies that the crowd in this issue is homogenous, while ‘pregnant people’, ‘uterus havers’ and such incorrectly imply that the crowd is more heterogenous than it is. Unfortunately, it seems that there is always going to be this tension in the language we use.

    *Estimates of trans-men numbers range from 1/2000th of the population to 1/100,000th.

    #2 Jason Thibeault
    Refusing to name her makes it about the argument, not her as a person. You know, since she seems to think every criticism is a devastating personal attack, not naming her removes that possibility.

    That may be your intent, but it comes of as a highly passive-aggressive way to talk about someone instead. We’re adults here, let’s not suddenly pretend talking entirely about a person’s arguments without mentioning the person means said person will not know they are being talked about.

    Completely unrelated: how on Earth is your surname pronounced? I’ve been going with ‘thai-bolt’ in my head, but the uncertainty bugs me.

  13. 16

    Off topic: this is a rhetorical question for clamboy, but where were you when we had this discussion before? That post should give you an idea of the personal frustrations, and – though she doesn’t dwell on it, and though the idea has been scoffed at by the person whose actions have been the fundamental cause of the issue – also the profound hurt that people such as Stephanie have experienced over these months. She could have linked it for your benefit, but didn’t, since she’s not obliged to educate anyone out of their paucity of knowledge about a subject (“Whatever may have happened between the two of you”). Please read it before jumping to similar assumptions about the motivations of people posting on vexed topics.

    On-topic: as I’m on the trans-feminine spectrum side of things, I don’t have any direct skin in this game – except that all trans* folk suffer from the ill-effects of the trans-exclusionary bullshit which the Twitter tirade and associated blogging exemplify, and all trans* folk seeking medical care for gender dysphoria face levels of gate-keeping that deny us direct autonomy over our bodies, as well as general transphobia attending the resolution of any other medical condition we might experience (see the Twitter hashtag #TransHealthFail. The only difference in several months having passed is that back in June, July, and August it was mainly trans women being “TERFed” under the bus; now it’s trans men and non-binary people who were assigned female at birth that are being chucked under the Wheels.

    I’ve said before elsewhere (I’d post a link, but I can’t remember precisely where I made the observation) that no one wants to remove from the centre cis women who in the US are the targets of the repressive Republican “war on women”. The legislative attempts to destroy abortion as a safe, accessible medical procedure in every state where the religious right wing is in power represents an obvious civil rights emergency. Trans* folk are just another bit of collateral damage in that war, and for the TERFs, they are only too grateful for opportunities like this where they can demonise and exclude us.

  14. 17

    Holms, I won’t add anything to the debate about the attempt to avoid needless/distracting reference to the argument source in order to focus on the argument itself. But most people I know with the name Thibault pronounce it like “tee-bow”, to rhyme with “rainbow”. French, you know, perhaps via Canada or Louisiana.

  15. 18

    In French, every noun has a gender. And yes, in French, any grouping of many female-gendered objects and a male-gendered objects renders the plural pronouns male, as Pollitt says. That doesn’t mean she’s right about anything else in that argument, considering she’s aliasing “male” for “has a penis” and thus continually refers to trans women as “males”, which allows everyone to read that as a misgendering. So the imprecision in language is absolutely salient here, since people keep doing the same sort of aliasing with “men/women” and “male/female” and that makes it impossible to refer to genders and sexes separately.

    And yes, per badgersdaughter, pronounced like “TEE-boe”. Exactly like Tim Tebow. (Sadly.)

  16. 19

    making [the crowd / the issue of abortion] appear to be much more mixed than it actually is can be seen as removing women from an issue that is extremely closely linked to womanhood.

    I think there’s two problems to that line of thought.

    1) It assumes (or concedes, I guess) pregnancy/child birth is a core part of womanhood. This why anti-choice activists find it so easy to frame the discussion around motherhood, what it means to be a good mother, how important life must be to mothers, and how terrible it must be for a mother to terminate her possible offspring. When a pro-choice activist goes to Capitol Hill and argues “abortion protects families” that’s the ground they’re engaging anti-choicers on. The conversation needs to evolve beyond this, I think, not just because it’s more “true” or “accurate” the way @DrJaneChi frames the discussion but for purely pragmatic reasons too.

    2) It’s just not true that the language change of a handful of doctors is exclusionary. OB on her blog likens “pregnant people” to the “alllivesmatter” campaign missing several key elemants that make “alllivesmatter” so destructive. The biggest one of course being it is not done in good faith as evidenced by the number of Black Lives Matter murials defaced by the alllivesmatter crowd. All Lives Matter is less an assertion to protect anyone in danger of police brutality and more a way to shift the conversation onto reaffirming the “rights” of police to protect themselves. This is why #bluelivesmatter is often included whenever #alllivesmatter is used (and why it sprung up almost at the same time). Police here are the atagonistic group like anti-choice activists are. “Pregnant people” does not empower anti-choice activists. It does not concede ground, open them up to recentering themselves in the conversation, anything. This language choice doesn’t shift the conversation the way Pollit or OB or the dozen angry TERFs in @DrJaneChi’s mentions insisting she (a cis woman) is actually a misogynist man filled with hatred for all things woman are arguing it does and the parallels they are trying to draw don’t check out.

    P.S. Hope this all made sense. If not ah well, it’s late and I haven’t slept in like 30 hours lol

  17. 20

    As was already mentioned, most people automatically substitute “pregnant women” when they hear “pregnant people” and those who don’t are quite unlikely to be unfamiliar with sexism or misogyny inherent to the anti-abortion position, so the erasure of misogyny just isn’t there.
    I don’t see how this language drift could be problematic. If anything, I agree that it could have a positive impact in more ways than inclusiveness for trans men:

    More than that, challenging the default assumption that “people” means “men” is feminist work, and it is feminist work that aids us in the rest of our goals. As long as a group of women has to be differentiated from a group of “people” in order to be recognized, our full human rights are always in doubt. Yes, “people” means us, whoever else it means, and the sooner everyone learns to hear it that way the better.

  18. xyz

    Actually, saying “One in six people has had an abortion” sounds brilliant. It strikes a similar chord to another old feminist slogan, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” I really like that, even if “front hole” is language that discomforts me as applied to my own anatomy. I think more inclusive language can work for us, for sure.

  19. 25

    It’s gotten to the point where I fully expect to be “invisibled”, whether it’s based on my orientation (omni), gender identity (genderqueer), or the fact that I’m disabled.

    I just wish people wouldn’t equate “has a uterus” with “female”…

  20. 27

    What we have here quite simply is Ophelia deciding that being trans-exclusionary was a higher priority for her than being pro-choice. By interfering with this argument in a way that attacked the doctor, she has demonstrated that she would rather restrictions be kept on access to abortion than allow anyone with a functioning uterus out of the ‘WOMAN’ box.

    (You remember that box, right? The one she insisted she didn’t know where the boundaries even were?)

    The blog’s title has become almost profound. With the crusting over of any willingness to accept a greater-than-1979-second-wave reality, she’s demonstrated she really does think in B&W.

  21. 28

    abbeycadabra ,

    [Added after I reread your comment: I first read it as a comment on the relevant post‘s title on B&W and responded to that. I realized that something doesn’t fit so on rereading, the below comment of mine is actually unrelated but there it goes anyway..]

    On one hand, the title at least implies recognition of trans men as men but on the other, who is she kidding with the other implication that trans men are in any way treated as men (that is, preferentially to women) when it comes to health care?!
    But hey, who am I to seek logic and thought in bumper sticker arguments.

  22. 29

    The continuing hypocrisy from Ophelia just stuns me. She’s so concerned with feminists being harassed into using inclusive language that she goes and harasses a pro-choice feminist activist on Twitter for choosing to use inclusive language, insisting that she NOT do so. And whether or not Ophelia has accepted that her behavior was “borderline” harassment, her target certainly saw it that way, going so far as to block her.

  23. 31

    I know there’s nothing I love more than being erased from the discussion about the healthcare I need, and also to be violently misgendered if I am acknowledged. That’s some amazing feminsm that not only reduces cis women to their vaginas, but actively harms afab trans people. I’m sure for OB, harassing an abortion provider (who has done more for pro-choice activism and repro rights than a lazy bigot ever will) until she had to be blocked is just groundbreaking activism.

    Intensely cosigning Abbeycadabra @27 as well.

  24. Pen

    It feels kind of relevant to me, since I was born with the kind of reproductive organs that might necessitate abortion services, but in the intervening years I’ve lost the designation ‘woman’. Not that I’m a trans man either, it’s the meaning of the word which has shifted from the one it had as I was growing up. ‘Person’ turns out to be the label I’m left with. When I hear arguments like Ophelia Benson’s I feel a bit like I’m being forcibly co-opted into the designation ‘woman’ which has now acquired a bunch of meanings I can’t identify with.

    some trans men don’t like that word (“birth canal” or “front hole” are favored alternatives to the V-word). Trans men should refer to their genitalia however they like,

    On the other hand, if we’re looking for some mutually acceptable term, ‘birth canal’ won’t do since it suggests that giving birth is the primary use any of us intend to make of that organ. ‘Front hole’ is inaccurate and childish. ‘Middle hole’ might be accurate, but the second problem is still overwhelming.

  25. 33

    As a cis woman, I deeply resent being equated with a vagina. I have one, it gives me great pleasure, it was very handy when it came to reproduction, but I am not one any more than I am my left eye.
    How much worse must this be for people for whom their vagina is a constant source of dysphoria and possible violence?

    Yes, language changes. That’s its nature. To me, the argument against inclusive language seemst o be “if we change it now we would admit that we’ve been wrong before and we can’t be having that.”
    Nobody says we should no longer “trust women”. Just trust other people with uteruses as well.

    And finally, yes, it’s a discussion we need to have, obviously. But in the middle of a debate about reproductive choice is NOT the time and place.

  26. 34

    About the 1 in 3 vs. 1 in 6 point.

    Wouldn’t it in any case make much more sense to present the statistics in terms of how many have abortions out of all those who can get pregnant rather than reducing absolutely everything to sex/gender?

    The core problem, which I address in the book I’m writing, is that everything is reduced to a binary state of sex/gender even when such a distinction is meaningless from a statistical point of view.

    Now, in terms of pregnancy it isn’t meaningless statistically, as there is a significant correlation between “pregnant” and “woman”, but as Stephanie Zvan points out, everyone knows that already. The point remains that it is still more accurate to present such a ratio or percentage in relation to those who have that ability in the first place. As most people here undoubtedly are aware of there are more infertile cis women, intersex women and non-binary people than there are trans men. Pretending that trans* people somehow is “causing trouble” over the lack of inclusiveness at the expense of women in general is disingenuous.

    We live in a society that in many contexts puts women’s reproductive capabilities at the core of our existence. Recent research in Norway still shows that a woman who’s focused on career over family is considered selfish, while a man with the same focus is considered ambitious. Just to take one example.

  27. Pen


    Pen: there’s always “AFAB” for “assigned female at birth”. Inclusive, easy on the 140 character limits

    But it’s got nothing to do with anything as far as I’m concerned, especially considering that this assignation never had much impact on me, and it all happened rather a long time ago anyway. Thanks, but I’ll stick with gender neutral person. Too bad for Twitter, but it sums the situation up quite nicely. Or shall we start abbreviating to GNP?

  28. 38

    Is it arrogant of me, considering my contributions to exactly this discussion, precisely here on FtB to wonder why with so many links there’s no trans* analysis of the issue linked? The Storified twitter discussion says what the issues were – but the tweets allow no space for the types of exploration of language choices actually useful to educating on this topic. This is even more true when you look at how many of those tweets are either repetitive or off the topic of your article (such as whether or not Dr Jane Doe was calling for a “boycott” of AisForOrg when she suggested skipping a single event while donating equivalent funds to the beneficiaries of the fundraiser).

    I’m not suggesting you (or any other cis person) should remain silent on the topic. It just strikes me as weird that you had a handy FtB contribution right on point and didn’t use it. If you search "katha pollit" transgender language you get Paisley Currah in the middle of the first page. If you had the foresight to search for "katha pollit" trans language, my commentary is #3 on the first page of google search results. This is when Katha Pollit’s essay clocked in not at #1 but at #2.

  29. 39

    Not arrogant at all, Crip Dyke. I would have linked to yours here had I read before writing this (added now), and I’m rather surprised I didn’t catch it at the time it came out. I don’t recognize PZ’s posts on either side of it, though, so I’ll have to chalk that up to a wild and woolly spring in a year that’s left me feeling out of the loop and desperately wanting a nap. Her article I already had from when it came out and I decided I should respond to it. Not that I got to that until now.

  30. 42

    Can inclusive language exclude women?
    Is your answer to that question “no”? You say “no” in paragraph 2 (making reference to another blog post’s answer) and “no” in paragraph 3 (which you expand on here) but I realize now that you’re arguing against “reasons given for this hounding”.
    My first impression, upon hearing about this twitter exchange about “women” and “pregnant persons” (and I’ve read the storified exchange, Jason Thibault’s post but not the comments, your post and the comments, and I just found and quickly read Benson’s post on this… or what I think is her post on this… but I have yet to see anything that I was expecting about an argument that inclusive language can exclude women.
    My answer to the question “can inclusive language exclude women?” is “yes”. There’s a supreme court case from the 70s where the court determined that there was no sex discrimination in a particular dispute because the discrimination wasn’t between men and women, but between “pregnant and non pregnant persons.”
    That’s clearly a case where neutral/inclusive language was used to justify something that unjustly discriminated against women. And there are surely other examples. (e.g., I’ve read that political philosophers using “she” instead of “he” to refer to a random person might just hide rather than ameliorate existing inequalities…)
    But I digress. I have been expecting to see reference to cases like this, where inclusive language is used to exclude. I haven’t. But I admit I haven’t read it all so please let me know if I’m not looking hard enough, or not noticing the obvious. And I’m wondering if you were thinking that exclusive language couldn’t exclude…

  31. 43

    anon1152, if you read the link you post, it should quickly become obvious to you why no one is talking about that case in these circumstances. The question in that case had nothing to do with whether neutral language excluded anyone. It was over which standards/tests for discrimination should be applied and whether discriminatory intent was required.

  32. 44

    My apologies. I should have specifically said that I didn’t expect you to read the whole thing (unless you wanted to). And yes, I have read it, and I’ve read about the case in other off-line sources. I included it as a real-world example of inclusive language being used to exclude women… I thought it would be better than just making the assertion on my own authority…
    I still think the case is relevant to the question you posed (can inclusive language exclude women?) and to the twitter exchange about “pregnant persons” vs “women”.
    As I said in my comment, I thought you we’re arguing that inclusive language couldn’t exclude women, but then I realized that your blog post hadn’t given an unequivocal answer to that general question.
    Perhaps I should have just asked: “do you think that inclusive language can exclude women? (yes/no)”
    My answer to the question (can inclusive language exclude women?) is “yes”. I thought Ophelia Benson was saying “yes”, too, but, as I said, I didn’t see anything that looked like a convincing argument on her side of the twitter exchange… which was a bit disappointing.

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