The Word is Woman #10
Documenting the erasure of women from language and life.
Welcome to the Issue #10 of The Word is Woman, a weekly section of my substack where I document examples of the erasure of women from both language and public life.
For the past two years, ever since I spoke out about language changes in maternity such as ‘birthing people’, I have been sent hundreds of examples of convolutions of language in which the word woman is erased and replaced in the name of so-called ‘inclusivity’. Uterus owners, menstruators, non-men, bleeders, birthers, and even bodies with vaginas…the list of names we have been called and continue to be called is a seemingly endless catalogue of offence.
At the same time, we are seeing male people taking the place of women on sporting podiums and in public roles, and also being applauded as the ‘first woman’ to achieve a certain award or accomplishment, or the ‘best female’ or ‘woman of the year’ in their field.
The Word is Woman is a place to keep track.
So here is this week’s The Word is Woman for the week ending 27th October 2023.
Can we start this week with some stories of the power of activism? First up, someone spotted the now oft-used term ‘breastfeeding parents’ in this post. It’s not parents who breastfeed. It’s mums. It’s women. Don’t dilute and undermine and lay claim to our massive contribution in this way.
The person then contacted the ABA, and they apologised and updated the post.
It’s great that they were open to feedback in this way, and made this change. It also goes to show the power of simple activism.
In more good news, my friend the author Michelle Styles (who is happy to be named) was asked to complete a new profile on the UKHSA flu survey. Second question: what is your gender? So Michelle gave them some feedback.
And the flu survey team listened, and updated the form.
If you want to thank Michelle for this positive action, why not give her substack a follow?
The comedian Jack Whitehall shared this instagram post on behalf of his production company Jackpot Productions, but quickly deleted it after a backlash against the term ‘pregnant people’ to replace ‘pregnant women’.
And an activist in Wales spotted this sign in the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) loos in Cardiff - in all toilets, female, disabled and mens - and got her sharpie out.
Determinedly NOT listening to feedback though, is the organisation Spinning Babies, who have already featured in The Word is Woman #8. With 226k followers on instagram, Spinning Babies are a staple of the maternity world, and their determination to erase women from their own language seems to know no bounds. This week, they published this post (link here).
Pushback was strong and to begin with, they stated they would not tolerate ‘harmful’ comments (i.e comments politely but firmly rooted in biological reality).
They then switched off comments entirely, and yesterday - presumably in response - published a post telling us to ‘Love More and Judge Less’ - thus proving that the social conditioning of females to ‘Shut Up and Put Up’ is still alive and well.
Here you go Spinning Babies I fixed it for you:
Next up, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Cooperation) with ‘Australians with periods’ - a mysterious demographic with no other common ground than their monthly visit from Aunt Flo.
The Abortion Support Network are helping lots of ‘people’.
And here’s another post, this time from an abortion charity founder, about the people in Poland they’ve been supporting. Link is here.
This post, from US midwifery body NACP Midwives, asks ‘how many black, brown and indigenous people have to die giving birth?’, and talks about ‘human rights violations against pregnant and post partum individuals’. But is it truly intersectional to ignore the sex of those people who are dying? Would they be dying, or experiencing human rights violations during their health care, if they were male?
Somerset County Council have changed their name of their policy for Expectant Mothers to a policy for Expectant Parents, to be more inclusive. No additive language, just erasure of ‘mother’ - a word that means so much to so many.
My source tells me this wording has also been replicated across the whole organisation in all policies where "Expectant mothers".
I’ve been inundated with other examples this week, so many that I cannot include them all and keep this newsletter readable! So I’ll end with this one from an academic paper on folic acid.
The woman who sent it to me said, “The academic/scientific literature is awash with "pregnant people" etc. What I find astonishing in the folic acid article is how the switch to gender-neutral language ("individuals of childbearing age", "individuals planning a pregnancy" etc) essentially misreports the original folic acid recommendations, appearing to to suggest that men should take folic acid. Confused language and muddled meaning is becoming the norm.”
Thank you to all of you who have sent me examples this week, they are appreciated, and keep them coming!
I will be at the Battle of Ideas this Saturday debating whether ‘breast is best’, I hope to see some of you there, and thank you to those of you who have commented and fed back on the outline of my talk for the event, here.
On my train ride home on Sunday I’ll be chatting to you on my Sunday Thread. Perhaps we will chat about the BOI, or maybe the fantabulous feminist supper I’m going to on Saturday night will inspire us, or maybe I’ll attend another event in London on the Sunday before leaving that warrants a mention. Let’s leave it open! Until then, love to all, Milli x
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