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The Word is Woman #3
Documenting the erasure of women from language and life.
Welcome to the third issue of a new section of The Mule, The Word is Woman, 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.
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So here is this week’s The Word is Woman for the week ending 8th September 2023.
Well of course I have to start with the Always story, don’t I?! If you’ve missed it, yesterday I sent out an extra newsletter to tell you the story of how several quotes I gave to a journalist for an article they were writing about periods, were changed and had all traces of ‘woman’ and ‘female’ removed from them, apparently at the request of period pad company Always.
So I guess I get to join the elite club of women who have had their actual words changed, edited and censored to be more ‘inclusive’ - the most notable member of which is Ruth Bader Ginsberg, although the ACLU did at least have the courtesy to bracket the changes so that you could see it wasn’t what she originally said.
Always and GoodtoKnow didn’t bother with that.
They simply changed my words, against my wishes. They have taken down the piece now, but I have archived the original version and it’s linked to in my piece.
I’m sure that’s not going to be the end of the Always story, but for now, let’s move on. There is no mention of woman in this poster about ten different menopause events from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. I guess you could argue that this doesn’t really matter because it’s taken as read that any session that doesn’t specify a specific group (trans, non-binary, men etc) is ‘obviously’ for women. Unfortunately, whilst this pattern of erasure that I’m highlighting continues, examples like this will continue to leap out as having a ‘missing word’, even if that was not the intention. They form part of a wider pattern, of health messaging, articles and social media posts that are missing a word: WOMAN. Thanks to Jean Hatchet for highlighting this example on twitter.
Here’s yet another piece on periods that doesn’t like the W word, this one is from the MIT Technology Review. Apparently menstruation is something that happens to ‘humans’, but we mustn’t mention the specific type of humans it happens to.
The word woman is used 3 times in the article, people is used 15 times, and human 28 times.
Someone got in touch to let me know that the Staffordshire Mother and Baby Unit has had its name changed to the Parent and Baby Unit. The waybackmachine suggests this happened in May 2023, recording it for the last time as a Mother and Baby Unit on May 2nd.
By May 30th, the name had changed. For those who are unaware, Mother and Baby units exist specifically to keep women together with their babies when they need acute psychiatric support for female specific situations, for example with post-partum psychosis. They are chronically underfunded.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a paper on August 23rd 2023 on a pill for post-partum depression, opening with the claim that ‘1 in 8 people with a recent live birth experience post-partum depression symptoms’.
Although the W word features several times in the rest of the paper, it’s not clear why they have changed this opening sentence, in particular as the article they link is clear that this stat is ‘1 in 8 women’. Data about women’s lives is again obscured.
Similarly, Post Partum Support International shared an instagram post this week with the claim that, “Perinatal Mental Health Disorders affect 1 in 5 parents”. But this is false. Men / fathers may become depressed etc after birth but in far lower numbers, and the 1 in 5 stat applies to women / mothers only. By removing the word woman, PPSI are obscuring the reality of the data.
We may have to make press examples of the word ‘woman’ being applied to convicted male criminals a weekly feature. This week, it’s the turn of Daily Mirror and ‘Katana Paris’, who has been sexually assaulting people in prison yet still gets to be called ‘woman’ and ‘she / her’.
Even the link through to the Birmingham Mail in the ‘reader added context’ takes you through to an article that uses female pronouns.
These are not women’s crimes. You can find more examples under the hashtag #notourcrimes on twitter.
A worker from the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) got in touch to let me know the following.
DEFRA’s Women’s Network has been renamed the Gender Equality Network.
During World Breastfeeding Week (first week in August) the Gender Equality Network shared only one article about breastfeeding - this one - which is about trans identifying males breastfeeding. So - one article about breastfeeding in WBF, and it’s about how men can do it too (spoiler alert, they can’t). (read some of my thoughts on this here)
DEFRA also has a Breastfeeding Network - this is from their ‘breastfeeding and expressing at work’ policy. Women are described as ‘the individual’.
Thanks to Con-She on twitter for sharing the new toilet doors for The Cube cafe in Croydon, UK. The women’s loos have had a unisex sticker added, but the men’s loos still appear to be for men. To me this is quite a powerful visual symbol of the attempted erasure of ‘woman’ as a sex category.
Let’s end this week with a mention for UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls, Reem Alsalem, who has responded to what can only be described as a witch hunt at the hands of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) with a brilliant public statement. AWID, who call themselves a feminist outfit, issued this badly written statement in May, “demanding accountability for and a halt to the Special Rapporteur’s harmful practices”, and got hundreds of organisations and individuals to sign it. AWID claim that Alsalem, “…is continuing to perpetuate narratives upholding outdated and non-scientific understandings of binary biological sex, and reinforcing unfounded and sensationalized myths that vilify and dehumanize trans women, under the guise of “protection of women’s rights.”” Do read Reem Alsalem’s statement in full, but it’s worth highlighting this sentence: “There is nothing outdated or unscientific about the binary nature of sex, and I would encourage signatories of this letter to seek out biologists for a conversation around this issue.” Reem Alsalem refuses to erase women as a sex category, to allow ‘woman’ to become an identity that an individual may adopt or discard, or to ignore the relevance of biological sex in her fight to end violence against women. For this she is being villified at an international level. We must support her however we can.
Until next time, thanks for reading The Word is Woman.
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If you spot examples of erasure that you’d like to see highlighted, you can send them to me via email (either by replying to one of my substacks or at email@example.com), with the subject line, The Word is Woman.