I am not a walking cervix or a menstruator. I am a W‑O‑M‑A‑N by Naomi Firsht in The Times 31.10.18

The original article is here.

Do you have a cervix? Are you, like me, a menstruator? I think you know what I’m getting at. There’s really no need for me to spell it out for you, though if I did it would be spelled: w-o-m-x-n.

It began so gradually that I hardly noticed it: the erasure of the word “woman”. But the final straw came last week when a Guardian article about how period pain affected working women cited a survey taken of “538 menstruators”. Needless to say, it didn’t go down too well with a large number of “menstruators” if Twitter is anything to go by. (And the word was later removed from the article.)

Yet this is simply the latest in a long line of incidents which have turned “woman” into a kind of swear word.

Earlier this month, the Wellcome Collection in London made a huge error of judgment when it used the word “womxn” in promotion of a new event. Initially the museum defended the decision, claiming it signalled inclusivity before eventually apologising after a huge backlash on social media.

During the summer, Cancer Research launched a cervical cancer awareness campaign highlighting the need for women of a certain age to go for smear tests. Tweets promoting the campaign omitted the word “women” and instead encouraged “everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix” to go for a screening.

This follows last year’s advice from the British Medical Association, which encouraged staff to avoid calling pregnant women “expectant mothers” and to use the term “pregnant people” instead.

All of this tiptoeing around the “woman” and desire for inclusivity is done so as not to offend transgender people. As such, the term “womxn” is used because it supposedly includes trans-women in its definition; while any reference to the medical needs of women must be altered to ensure trans-men, who may have the same medical needs, do not feel offended.

Well I’m offended. In fact, I’m appalled. Have any of these organisations casually erasing women thought about how long it took women to fight for a voice in public life? Have any of them spared a moment to consider that women spent years demanding the right to be recognised as women, as a distinct group from, but of equal importance to men? Women fought to not be reduced to their biology. Yet in 2018 we must once again be reduced to menstruation, a cervix, a pregnant person.

And it isn’t happening to the men. No-one is replacing the word “men” with “mxn” in publicity campaigns, no medical organisations are raising awareness for “people with prostates”.

And so we find ourselves in a situation where a billboard bearing the Google definition of woman as “adult human female” in Liverpool is removed after a complaint that it “makes transgender people feel unsafe”.

Transgender people are, of course, entitled to live free from discrimination and with dignity, as we all must be. But somehow the rights and feelings of this group have been elevated above those of other people.

Today, workplaces are encouraged to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns and be sensitive to how they want to be addressed. Yet, at the same time, use of the word “woman” in a publicity campaign is considered too controversial.

I am not keen on today’s identity politics which seeks to sub-categorise people into smaller and smaller groups, usually based on criteria you can do nothing about: race, religion, sexuality etc. I prefer instead to think of people in a universal sense, as all in the same category of human.

As such, I had never thought that much about what it means to be a woman. Until the word itself became a bone of contention. The fact is, being a man or a woman is an integral part of how most people define themselves.

Language is important. We use it to define ourselves and to express ourselves. To have to fight to use the word woman in 2018 is a worrying sign of a society that has lost its way. Women get periods. Women get pregnant. These should not be controversial statements.

When the quest for inclusivity means the erasure of half of the population, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I am not a walking cervix. I’m a woman, W-O-M-A-N.

Naomi Firsht is a journalist and co-author of The Parisians’ Guide to Cafés, Bars and Restaurants

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