Wider use of gender-neutral language can deepen discrimination against women, healthcare experts warn
Inclusive and ‘desexed’ language, which has been adopted by some major western healthcare institutions as a nod to transgender people, may affect wellbeing of women and children in a very negative way, an international team of experts is warning.
According to research conducted by scientists from Australia, the US, Europe and Asia, and due to be published this week, general use of such terms as “birth persons” instead of “birthing women” or “human milk feeding” instead of “breastfeeding” not only puts the mother-infant bond under risk and undermines breastfeeding but also may contribute to further discrimination against women.
“Desexing the language of female reproduction has been done with a view to being sensitive to individual needs and as beneficial, kind, and inclusive. Yet, this kindness has delivered unintended consequences that have serious implications for women and children,” the experts wrote in their paper, called ‘Effective communication about pregnancy, birth, lactation, breastfeeding and newborn care: the importance of sexed language’ and seen by The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
While the authors of the report, set to be published in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health, support the very idea of respect and inclusiveness, they warn of a “high cost” of “dehumanizing” women and, therefore, recommend using “desexed” terms on an individual basis only, “wherever possible.”
A co-author of the research and ex-president of the Australian College of Midwives, Jenny Gamble, explained that gender-neutral language can lead to deeper discrimination against women.
She underlined that as pregnancy, birth and early motherhood are “fundamentally sexed issues, not gendered,” pregnant women, women who are giving birth and new mothers have “unique vulnerabilities” and deserve protection.
“Confusing the idea of gender identity and the reality of sex risks adverse health consequences and deeper and more insidious discrimination against women,” Gamble said, as quoted by an Australian news outlet.
Wide and sometimes thoughtless use of gender-neutral terms has already caused several high-profile scandals.
In September last year a prominent scientific magazine Lancet had to apologize for sexism after the expression “bodies with vaginas” had appeared on its front page.
In December the UK’s Royal College of Midwives was forced to apologize for calling mothers “postnatal people” in its ‘safer sleep’ guidance. The organization admitted that not mentioning mothers was a “huge oversight,” especially considering the institution’s commitment “to ensure that women are never erased from the narrative around pregnancy & birth.”Continue reading
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