In April, the Washington Post publicized its desire to adopt more “gender-neutral language”, citing the paper’s earlier pubication of “A guide to the words we use in our gender coverage“. That guide sets out how the paper will use a panoply of words related to gender identity, sexual orientation, and so on. Nowhere in that article is there a guide showing how to use the words “man” or “woman”. Women are mentioned only in these two entries:
Transgender describes someone whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth (this can also be shortened to “trans”). For example, a transgender woman is someone who was listed as male at birth but whose gender identity is female.
Nonbinary is a term used by people whose experience of gender identity and gender expression do not align neatly as either “man” or “woman,” the two categories Western countries have generally used to classify gender.
Note the present perfect tense: “Western countries have generally used“, implying that that time is past.
Now, scientific journals and societies, in a race to determine who can display the most virtue (euphemistically described as “becoming inclusive”) are deep-sixing the term “woman” as well. You can see this in the following Science article, which is actually not bad, about how the Dobbs case, and the end of national Roe v Wade legislation, will affect science . Click to read
Many of the points the article makes are good ones. Will women scientists boycott states that don’t allow abortions, or not have meetings there? Will women scientists consider taking jobs in such states? Will pregnant women scientists go to conferences in states where, if something goes amiss, they can’t get good medical care? These are questions that women scientists should ponder, and I already have one colleague who says she will never even go to a state like Texas or Mississippi that bans abortions.
(One idea just crossed my mind: will women scientists also boycott meetings in countries that have strict anti-abortion laws. For compared to a fair number of countries, even in Europe, many U.S. states have more liberal abortion laws).
But I digress. These issues, of course, aren’t unique to science, but scientists do have a tendency to go to professional gatherings, and these things must be considered.
No, the article is fine, but we can see scientists using Post-ian “inclusive” language. First of all, the article itself does not contain the word “woman” except in two quotes from women scientists, one of which uses “woman” in conjunction with another term (my emphasis)
The Supreme Court’s reversal will likely be felt most strongly in groups that are already underrepresented in science, says Nicole Williams, the outreach director for the nonprofit 500 Women Scientists. “Being an African-American woman, and just knowing the stats—that Black birthing persons already experience high levels of pregnancy-related mortality—the overturning of Roe versus Wade is a death sentence for Black women scientists and birthing persons.”
I wasn’t quite sure what the last sentence meant: whether “Black women scientists and birthing persons” referred only to black women, both scientists and pregnant ones, or intended the term “birthing persons” to be only non-black pregnant women. But I think it’s the former: Williams is talking about problems that hit black women harder. But “birthing persons”? Nope. And I wonder what Williams means when she calls herself an “African-American woman”. Isn’t she an “African-American birthing person”? And shouldn’t the organization be “500 Birthing People Scientists”?
I’m only partly joking; as I note below, this purging of language really isn’t inclusive, for it erases a class that has its own identity: biological women. More in a second.
One more change of language at the end, quoting a social scientist who is pregnant and worries about emergency situations as she had a miscarriage:
“As a pregnant person,” Alves says, she wouldn’t feel comfortable attending conferences in locations where, if something went awry, “I couldn’t get medical care that I needed and that reflects my values.”
It’s hard not to imagine that Alves deliberately chose to use “pregnant person” instead of “pregnant woman.”
Well, so what? Language changes, the advocates of inclusivity will say. But remember this eloquent and thoughtful NYT article, which I wrote about recently (click to read):
Read the whole thing; I’ll just give a small bit about so-called inclusivity:
But in a world of chosen gender identities, women as a biological category don’t exist. Some might even call this kind of thing erasure.
. . . Tolerance for one group need not mean intolerance for another. We can respect transgender women without castigating females who point out that biological women still constitute a category of their own — with their own specific needs and prerogatives.
If only women’s voices were routinely welcomed and respected on these issues. But whether Trumpist or traditionalist, fringe left activist or academic ideologue, misogynists from both extremes of the political spectrum relish equally the power to shut women up.
For the Washington Post, Science, and many other media, as well as people themselves, women apparently don’t exist as a biological category.