The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood prompted widespread dismay on Tuesday after she tweeted an article titled “Why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?” Written by Rosie DiManno in the Toronto Star, the article complains that the word “woman” is being erased in favor of gender-inclusive language such as “bodies with vaginas.” It goes on to echo a number of familiar talking points among trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). DiManno has been criticized for her coverage of similar topics in the past.
Many of Atwood’s followers were disappointed to see her share this kind of content on Twitter, pointing out that the word “woman” isn’t being erased from public discourse. The article is scaremongering about a problem that doesn’t exist, drawing a bizarre connection between abortion restrictions and gender-inclusive language.
Responding to criticism of the article, Atwood retweeted a tweet saying, “We can say women. And we can say people when that’s more accurate and inclusive. Women are people.” However, she also defended Rosie DiManno against accusations of transphobia, even though the article literally complains about “trans activism run amok.”
Trans people frequently face medical discrimination, one example being trans men struggling to access cervical screenings. Inclusive language like “people with cervixes” or “pregnant people” can be helpful in this regard, reminding healthcare providers that women aren’t the only people who need these services.
Gender-neutral language is also more accurate when referring to a large group of people. An individual pregnant woman is still a pregnant woman, but “pregnant people” makes more sense for a general news headline about reproductive health.
Rosie DiManno used her platform to mock and criticize this kind of inclusive language, saying that politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have “jumped the shark” by choosing to use gender-neutral terminology. She makes fun of the idea that “language radicals” will somehow cancel the word “woman,” starting the article with song parodies like “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Person with a Vagina.” Basically, she sees gender-inclusive language as some kind of threat to cisgender women. By extension, she’s arguing against inclusive treatment and healthcare for trans people. It’s a popular talking point in the world of transphobic feminism, which is why so many people were upset to see this article endorsed by Margaret Atwood.
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