I wonder whether people in the future will look back at this time of Newspeak as a great moral advance or as a time of semantic craziness. I tend to side with the latter in cases where only a few members of a group are offended by a usage. For example, I tend to use the slightly inaccurate “Hispanic” instead of “Latinx” since only 3% of Hispanics use the new and awkward term. (It has also transformed itself into “Latine”, which I suspect is used by even fewer.) If “Latinx” and “Latine” aren’t favored by Hispanics, who is pushing the adoption of this term? People who aren’t Hispanic, of course. It is performative semantics.
What about “woman”? If you object to its use in nearly any general context, you tend to be called a “transphobe”, though I, for one, have no objection to calling transgender women “women” out of civility, though I also consider them biological men.
This new article in the NYT takes up the issue (an editorial is soon to follow). Click to read:
You surely know that because transgender men who retain the ability to give birth object to being called “women”, that term is gradually being phased out of many venues. One of the biggest advocates of this change is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which no longer prioritizes the rights of people with whom they disagree. Like the Southern Poverty Leadership Conference, they are becoming thoroughly woke. Here are two of their tweets.
Abortion bans disproportionately harm:
▪️ Black, Indigenous & other people of color
▪️ the LGBTQ community
▪️ young people
▪️ those working to make ends meet
▪️ people with disabilities
Protecting abortion access is an urgent matter of racial and economic justice.
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 11, 2022
Where is the group most harmed by abortion bans? They’re not even mentioned, not even as “people born with vaginas.”
Here’s another one that I wrote about last September. In this case the ACLU deliberately omitted any of RBG’s words that referred to “women” (the originals are replace by words in brackets]. This verges on arrant dishonesty. Ginsburg did NOT say the words in brackets.
With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, we lost a champion for abortion and gender equality. And on the anniversary of her death, the fight to protect abortion access is more urgent than ever. pic.twitter.com/vIKadIHouN
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 18, 2021
The NYT gives a lot of other examples; here are a few:
Last year, the editor of The Lancet, a British medical journal, apologized for a cover that referred to “bodies with vaginas” rather than women.
Today, “pregnant people” and “birthing people” have elbowed aside “pregnant women.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a section on “Care for Breastfeeding People,” the governor of New York issued guidance on partners accompanying “birthing people” during Covid, and city and some state health departments offer “people who are pregnant” advice on “chestfeeding.”
The Cleveland Clinic, a well-known nonprofit hospital, posed a question on its website: “Who has a vagina?” Its answer begins, “People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) have vaginas.” The American Cancer Society website recommends cancer screenings for “people with a cervix.”
This reflects a desire by medical professionals to find a language that does not exclude and gives comfort to those who give birth and identify as nonbinary or transgender.
And no matter how many posts I write, I just can’t bring myself to use the words “people with vaginas” or “people who are assigned female at birth” instead of “women”, though I’ll refer to transwomen as “transwomen” when that word is appropriate. And as a biologist I can’t pretend that sex (as opposed to gender) is a spectrum, or that it’s not even near being a binary.
The article above, which you can read for yourself, quotes people justifying this change not just on the grounds of equity, but because “language evolves.” But in this case language isn’t evolving naturally, it’s being forced to change at the point of a gun.
How many people who give birth are transgender men? The times reports 0.1 percent, or one birth in a thousand.
Is that sufficient to warrant such a substantial a language change? What if 0.1 % of all Jews objected to the term “Jew” because it sounds anti-Semitic? Would you start saying, “People of the Hebrew persuasion?” instead.
And the difference is not purely semantic: some women want to make a distinction between transgender women and biological women in athletics, in incarceration, and in rape counseling, and for reasons I consider reasonable.
Still, the ACLU and even the Biden administration want the legislation of complete moral and legal equivalence between transwomen and biological women (or transmen and biological men), even if there has been no surgical or medical intervention, and even if the change in gender involves nothing other than a verbal declaration. Is that fair?
To be sure, even Joe Biden messes up sometimes:
Last year the Biden administration put out budget documents that reflected the gendered discourse of progressives and referred to “birthing people.” Conservatives pounced.
But this month, when word leaked of a potential Supreme Court turnabout, President Biden was unequivocal and practiced in his language choices. “I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental,” he said. “Basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.”
Is Biden a transphobe? I don’t think so. “Transphobia” literally means “fear of transsexual people”. I am not afraid of transsexual people, and neither is Biden. But there are valid philosophical and moral questions that turn on what we define as “the sexes”. To favor discussion of these issues is not a “phobia” by any construal of the term.
So far, though, Congress hasn’t gone along with the language—even Bernie Sanders!
A few left-leaning congressional representatives have adopted movement language. Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, testified last year about “birthing people.” But it is far more common to hear senators and congressional representatives, female and male alike, refer to women. “We cannot go back to the days when women had to risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who represents Vermont.
Is Bernie really a “transphobe”? He would be if the “progressive” Left was consistent in its slurs.
. . .“Activists are adopting symbols and language that are off-putting not just to the right but to people in the center and even liberals,” [Professor Steven Greene] noted.
For this reason he was not surprised when most Democratic politicians declined to echo the language of progressive organizations. “You don’t become a candidate for the presidency or speaker of the House by being dumb about what works in politics,” he said. “Democrats were not going to be afraid to use the word ‘women.’”
Here’s one solution:
Professor Greene questioned the wisdom of activists in insisting that a mass-based movement discard its base and core sexual identity. Why not, for instance, insist that women and transgender men are each embattled when it comes to abortion?
Doesn’t that type of usage solve the problem? For some reason I don’t think it will.