Inclusive language: no one is taking the word ‘woman’ away

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

There’s been so much hateful, tedious, miserable bullshit written about trans people in the UK media it’s hard to pick out just one thing to rant about. I find it tricky to tackle the darker stuff, because I don’t know what I can contribute other than to just note that ‘GC’ (‘gender critical’) appears to be a new euphemism for ‘TERF’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), which itself is a euphemism for ‘transphobe’, and if your ideology requires you to actively fight against trans rights then you need to have a stern fucking word with yourself. Sometimes, though, the specifics feel easy enough that even I, an incompetent twat, might have something to contribute. Let’s talk about inclusive language, ‘pregnant people’, and why no one is trying to stop you from using the word ‘woman’.

First, be aware that we’re not talking here about trans ‘issues’, we’re talking about trans people. As explained brilliantly in this piece by Jane Fae

“The phrase “trans issues” is doing a great deal there. It is dehumanising. It is distancing. It is done with purpose; to wit, to reduce trans people — ’cause that is what we are — to an abstract.”

So. We’re not talking about ‘issues’, we’re talking about ‘people.’ And whenever we talk about things which touch on inclusivity, it’s really important to remember that. If you have an opinion on something that will have little impact on your life but a measurable impact on other people, it’s vital to acknowledge that not all opinions are equal. They really aren’t. If I have an opinion on the ‘issue’ of whether you should be banned from public spaces, you – the person that opinion directly impacts – should get more say than I do in how that ‘issue’ is resolved. You are a person, and your personhood is more important than me getting to win a debate. No matter how strong my opinion, or how persuasive my argument might appear to an equally-unaffected bystander, it should never be given more weight than your rights.

Why are we saying ‘pregnant people’ now?

Some people have a problem with the growing use of the word ‘people’, as opposed to a more gender-specific term. Let’s take an example, in the form of this tweet from Kirstie Allsop which contains an incorrect yet extremely common misconception about inclusive language.

Kirstie’s tweet is in response to some recent work by various campaigning groups to make sure that health services use more inclusive language. Given that some non-binary people and trans men get pregnant, using the term ‘pregnant people’ to refer to people who are pregnant, is preferable to ‘pregnant women’ which is less inclusive, and also inaccurate.

No one is trying to take away the term ‘pregnant women’, though, or say you cannot refer to yourself as a ‘woman’ or a ‘mother’ if you are either of those things, any more than we’re taking away gendered terms when we use neutral ones in other contexts. For instance, when discussing TV programmes, I might refer to ‘the women who present Loose Women‘ but also ‘the people who present Location Location Location.’ Kirstie is, presumably, familiar with the neutral term ‘people’ in this context, and wouldn’t think that by acknowledging non-woman Phil Spencer, I’m somehow erasing her own womanhood.

If you accept that non-binary and trans people exist (and you do, right?), and you acknowledge that Phil Spencer exists (I haven’t met him but I’m willing to have faith) then the idea of referring to pregnant people shouldn’t really be controversial. It’s just how language works. I can still refer to a group of pregnant women, if I’m in an NCT class with people who are all women, but where I’m talking about any and everyone who is pregnant right now, it’s likely that number will include at least some people who aren’t women. Fun fact: I once took an NCT class and although we referred to the pregnant people as ‘Mums/Mothers/women’ (because they were all women), we referred to their birth partners as ‘birth partners’ instead of ‘Dads/Fathers/men’, because I was one of them, and I am not – nor will I ever be – a ‘dad.’ We already use inclusive language during pregnancy when we’re trying to include cisgender people who are performing non-traditional roles. It’s not a hardship or an issue, we just do it. None of the dads became less dadly because we used a gender-neutral term.

So when it comes to pregnancy, if we’re talking not just about a specific group that’s limited to women/Mums, but a larger cohort that can and will include men and non-binary people too, it’s not just inclusive to say ‘people’, it’s factually accurate. You aren’t banned from using any word – if you’re talking about women, say ‘women’, if you’re talking about people, say ‘people.’ The word ‘woman’ will still be there for you for as long as you want to use it. If you are a woman, acknowledging that other people might not be one does not somehow wipe you from the planet.

‘People’ who need to get smear tests

Inclusive language isn’t just more accurate, it’s really important – inclusive language can literally be life-saving. Coming back to the point at the start – we’re not talking about trans ‘issues’ but trans ‘people’ – Kirstie’s vague discomfort and worry that she might be being erased must be weighed against the impact that exclusionary language has on trans people. The short version of this is that they can miss screenings for various cancers because those screenings are only pushed at cisgender people – (Women! Go get your smear tests!) – or actually taken off the list for certain screenings because they’re no longer deemed eligible. It’s not just an interesting debate about the meaning of language, it’s a genuine problem which has real world consequences: people die as a result of this, and by making a small change in the way we talk about health – a change that actually makes our conversation more accurate – people could receive better treatment, and have better health outcomes.

Kirstie’s misconception is a common one. There are plenty of people (not just women – see?) who are concerned that by using inclusive language like ‘pregnant people’, we’re somehow taking away the right or ability to use more gender-specific terms, like ‘pregnant women.’ If this is truly what you’re worried about, and this is the only problem you have with inclusivity, I hope you can walk away from this blog feeling satisfied that your world is not being rewritten and you’re still welcome to use any damn word you please to describe yourself and your gender. Please do not expend a single extra calorie of your brain’s energy worrying that this will erase you. You are welcome to call yourself a ‘woman’ – and call women ‘women’ – as loudly as you like, for as long as you like, until the actual heat death of the Universe for all I care. No one is taking the word ‘woman’ away any more than we’re taking it away when we accurately refer to the ‘people’ who present Location Location Location.

However, this discussion is often used by transphobic feminists (GCs, TERFs, etc) as a wedge to try and shoehorn far darker ideas into the mix: if they can get you riled up enough about inclusive language, then maybe next they can get you angry about inclusive action. Perhaps if you’re pissed off enough that the word ‘woman’ is being taken away from you, you’ll be equally open to the possibility that trans rights in a broader context (the right to self-define, the right to pee in public bathrooms) will eat away at the rights of cisgender women as well. If transphobes can get you on board with this linguistic ‘issue’, debating your vague feeling of discomfort with real-life people whose actual health outcomes are at stake – as if those two things are of equal importance – it’s not a huge leap to get you thinking that other aspects of trans people’s lives and should be debated in the exact same way.

I doubt I am qualified to help you out of that deep hole, but maybe I can help you avoid falling into it via this route.

Inclusive language: more accurate, saves lives, no skin off your teeth.



  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    I have nothing to disagree with here. So on a slight tangent: I just want to say how unfair it is that the anti-trans crowd have stolen the phrase ‘gender-critical’ to describe themselves. I am gender-critical, in the sense that I think gender is a cruel oppressive power structure that should die. Doesn’t mean I don’t support trans rights though, quite the opposite! Trans people are the ones who personally demonstrate what a load of BS our gender system is.

    But it seems we’re not allowed to just call them transphobes any more, and are supposed to use that euphemism instead…

    • Girl on the net says:

      Yeah, I totally see what you mean here, and a mate of mine was complaining about similar recently – gender critical feels like it could be a very a useful term for being critical of the ways in which gender norms can harm people, but it’s been coopted by transphobes to mean ‘I am a transphobe who wants to sugar-coat it’ – blergh.

  • fuzzy says:

    good post.

  • EuphemiseThis says:

    Very well said indeed!!!

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