"Pregnant people"

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"New CDC Data: COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for Pregnant People", CDC Media Statement 8/11/2021:

CDC has released new data on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people and is recommending all people 12 years of age and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“CDC encourages all pregnant people or people who are thinking about becoming pregnant and those breastfeeding to get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”

Michael Foust, "CDC Director Criticized for Replacing 'Women' with 'Pregnant People': It's 'Dehumanizing' to Women", Christian Headlines 8/13/2021:

The CDC director is receiving pushback from conservatives for repeatedly referring to pregnant women as "pregnant people" in a brief speech Thursday about COVID-19 vaccines. […]

The phrase "pregnant people" is used by some in the LGBT community to include biological women who identify as men. It also can include women who identify as non-binary.

"People don't get pregnant – women do," R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his podcast The Briefing.

Dr. Mohler has strong feelings about related terminological and politico-cultural issues, judging from his recent podcasts. And we can predict more and more of the same, judging from the fact that in the NOW ("News on the Web") corpus, almost 10% of instances of "pregnant women/pregnant people" are now "pregnant people", even before the kerfuffle about the CDC announcement:

The NOW corpus (News on the Web) contains 13.2 billion words of data from web-based newspapers and magazines from 2010 to the present time (the most recent day is 2021-08-19).

I counted usages in that corpus, year by year, from 8/1/2010-8/1/2011 up to 8/1/2020-8/1/2021.

And the past few weeks (8/1/2021-8/19/2021) have 950 instances of "pregnant women" and 215 instances of "pregnant people", or 100*215/(950+215) = 18.5%.

From the perspective of lexicographers, semanticists, and psycholinguists, this is an interesting case (and not the only one) where base-level terminology evolves for socio-political reasons.

Update — as sauce for the gander, see "'People with erectile dysfunction'".


  1. Timothy George Rowe said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:23 am

    "People don't get pregnant – women do"
    So women are not people, eh?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:34 am

    How many 12-year-old "people" are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant?

  3. Annie Gottlieb said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:40 am

    Why don't they just say "safe during pregnancy" and avoid the whole kerfuffle? Like why don't they just have one or two single nongendered bathrooms for whoever wants to use them? Why always choose the most confrontational word choice as if we had no choice?

    (As a copy editor I often recast sentences to avoid specifying only two genders AND ALSO avoid using the singular-plural "they." There are certainly places where "they" or "their" falls on the downbeat and is colloquial and unproblematic ("everyone should do whatever they want," "each student chooses the major they are most interested in"), and that's fine. But there are times when it is an obtrusive atrocity and totally confusing as to how many people we are talking about, anyway!!

  4. Annie Gottlieb said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:41 am

    (I know, I know—I don't always copyedit my own comments. So sue me.)

  5. june said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 12:41 pm

    @Annie Gottlieb

    Symbolic erasure is why. Pregnant men (and to a lesser degree pregnant enbies) are persistently erased, so hearing language that acknowledge their reality is a huge emotional boon for those people. Imagine you went through life with people around you either explicitly excluding you or carefully constructing utterances to ensure other people who find your mere existence objectionable are comfortable. Imagine the relief you might feel to be acknowledged in official documentation.

    I object to describing "pregnant people" as "the most confrontational word choice". "Pregnant women" is a good example of a needlessly confrontational word choice because it deliberately excludes all men and many enbies. "Pregnant people" is plain, direct language that neither belabors it nor shies away from it. A confrontational word choice would be "pregnant people, including those who are male or nonbinary" or "preganant women, pregnant men, and pregnant enbies".

  6. Alex said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 12:55 pm

    @Victor Mair Twelve-year-olds can and do get pregnant, though I'm not sure how many intend to at the time. I like "pregnant people" because it's a lot easier to say than "pregnant women and girls and a few intersex or AFAB people." The number of nonbinary or transmasculine people who get pregnant is pretty small, but there are *lots* of pregnant girls (though fewer now than in the past). Some of them are below the age of consent, and it's frankly icky to consider them "women" just because they got pregnant. That's the kind of logic that leads to marrying them off instead of prosecuting the (usually) adult men who got them pregnant.

    You can't just say "pregnant females" because then it sounds like you're breeding sows or running an incel forum. And there are a lot of women and girls who can't get pregnant (including virtually everyone under the age of 8 or over the age of 50), either, so you can't use "women and girls" as shorthand for people who have the potential to harbor fetuses. "Pregnant people" is just fine, and has the advantage of alliteration.

  7. mg said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 1:14 pm

    Some trans men can get pregnant, as can those who are non-binary. That is why there's been this switch in the medical world to saying "pregnant people". It takes getting used to, but it's done to show sensitivity to people of various genders who become pregnant. And as a woman, I've never found it dehumanizing to be referred to as a person.

  8. Cervantes said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 1:18 pm

    Why do talking heads and politicians always have to refer to the military as "men and women" who serve or whatever? Why can't they say people? Just wondering . . .

  9. Terry K. said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 1:20 pm

    I second that thought on "pregnant woman" shouldn't be used when the groups includes underage teens (and potentially 12 year olds).

  10. Garrett Wollman said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 1:43 pm

    I think this particular collocation engenders (no pun intended) a bit more freakout than is usual because — while "woman" includes a broad variety of people who may or may not be able to be pregnant for various reasons, and "pregnant" includes some number of people who do not consider themselves "women" — for most English-speakers, "the child-bearing sex of human adult" is fairly central to the prototype of "woman".

  11. Brett said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 2:12 pm

    @Garrett Wollman: A viewpoint that I heard propounded a few years back (not one that I really agree with, but not entirely absurd either) was that being pregnant (or at least visibly pregnant) was itself an act of female gender presentation.

  12. David Marjanović said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 3:20 pm

    How many 12-year-old "people" are […] pregnant?

    Last time I read about this, the Guinness world record was a 10-year-old who gave live birth.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 4:28 pm

    Cervantes: Why do talking heads and politicians always have to refer to the military as "men and women" who serve or whatever? Why can't they say people? Just wondering . . .

    At Joe Biden's age, it's a two-step process: boys > men > and women.

    For my next ESP trick…

    Actually, I do suspect that "our brave men" is involved.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 5:04 pm

    "10-year-old" "world's record"

    My question was "how many"? And "are planning"?

  15. AntC said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 5:25 pm

    How many 12-year-old "people" are pregnant

    Quite a few by Southern Baptist ministers and gun-toting candidate Sheriffs, I believe. The sort of Ministers who are against abortion for 12-year-olds (or indeed for anybody) — except if the Minister themselves is the father.

    IOW exactly the sort of Male people whose hypocrisy invalidates any right to comment.

  16. Gregory Kusnick said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 7:05 pm

    I don't see where the CDC said anything about pregnant 12-year-olds. What they said is that since the vaccines have been shown to be safe for pregnant people, there's no longer a reason for such people to exempt themselves from the recommendation that "all people 12 years of age and older get vaccinated".

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 8:17 pm

    The phrase seems plain wrong to me, and before any political ideas whatever enter my head. 'Pregnant women' is just the normal way to say this as a noun phrase; substituting 'girls' or 'females' would likewise sound wrong, though the meaning is just as clear.

    As the statement mentioned nothing about pregnant 12-year-olds in particular, all the comments relating to teenage pregnancy are off base, and 'pregnant women' is certainly understood to include all ages.

    I myself don't see how it could possibly be disputed that being or getting pregnant, regardless of intent, is a female characteristic exclusively.

    Last, I know the normal medical thing is 'safe during pregnancy', but perhaps someone wanted to avoid that as too formal or clinical, although I would never see any problem with it in such a context.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  18. wanda said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 10:55 pm

    @Andrew Usher: Does it seem wrong or just unfamiliar? I'm not used to it either, but "pregnant people" seems like the right choice when you're focusing on the "pregnancy" part and not the "women" part. I hadn't thought of pregnant girls (as opposed to just women), but clearly it's important to acknowledge that non-binary people and trans men can be pregnant.

  19. Celena said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:09 pm

    It's funny how "erasure" of trans men is causing the erasure of women in our own words. It is not – and should not – be controversial to point out that only women can get pregnant. "Women" is the common plural noun for human females. Women produce large gametes (ova) and have different organs that allow us to not only become pregnant, but sustain that pregnancy and give birth, and then produce nutritious milk (which also helps support the infant's immune system) after. Not all women are able to nor do all women want to, but women are the only ones who can provided all systems were functioning typically.

    Regardless of how that particular woman identifies, they are biologically female and, again, "woman" is the common word to refer to that. To say that women must be excluded from our own language surrounding pregnancy – something inherently female and something that has been guided by women since before midwifery was even called such – to please an extremely small minority of people who are unable to acknowledge their biological realities, that's just offensive and has no place in scientific writing.

    Gender is a social construct, by which I mean that the concept of gender as we know it is created and reinforced by a society. It changes throughout time and it changes throughout cultures, which shows that any ideas of "innate" gender is illogical. Gender is the idea that women wear dresses, makeup, have long hair, etc. These stereotypes are imposed upon us before we are even born (talking about pregnancy!) and are reinforced by other people and media. There is nothing about being female that makes wearing pink inherently important, but parents will still buy pink baby clothes for a girl and blue for a boy. This later affects brain development, too: the more boys are encouraged to play actively, the more their spatial awareness improves. The more girls are encouraged to play with dolls, the more their emotional intelligence improves. It perpetuates the gendered stereotypes that women are better in social situations and men are better in physical situations. By the age of six, children have ideas about "girl" jobs and "boy" jobs are, and adjust their own expectations and goals depending on this. Girls don't see female doctors as often as they do male doctors, for example, so "doctor" becomes gendered masculine and is not a job for her. This goes both ways: boys see few male nurses, so "nurse" is feminine and he can't be one. When gender neutral language is used in the classroom, girls perform better at subjects previously seen as masculine, like maths and science.

    One thing I have found very interesting about cults and certain religious movements is the intentional policing and censoring of language, particularly to do with sex and sexuality. Children growing up in these environments are not given the language to express what they are feeling or is happening to them. It is not just taboo and shameful, it is never spoken about or read about. This obviously causes major problems when these children grow up, but it also causes problems in cases of child sexual abuse. These children literally do not know the words to describe what is happening to them or how they feel. They don't understand what's happening nor how to express what is happening to get help (or whether they should even get help). When people don't have the language – or are not allowed to use said language – to share their experiences, they are going to struggle silently and internally, and we are going to miss out on helping them. There are problems that are intertwined with being female, like period poverty and period huts in Nepal, abortion rights, the foeticide of female foetuses, rape, femicide, maternity leave and high maternal death rates, etc. We need to have accurate and appropriate language to discuss this. These things happen *because* we are female, not because we identify as such. I'm sure plenty of women would love to identify as men if it enabled them to escape these oppressions. I don't think the women in Afghanistan are being oppressed because of their "feminine identity", I think they are being oppressed because they are female and can become pregnant. Likewise, I'm sure if only the family of a female foetus in India could see that she later identifies herself as male. I'm sure she wouldn't be aborted then! We are incubators and babysitters for a man's sons, but not people in our own right. We are traded between men, given new names from those men, leave our families, are sold and prostituted and trafficked. We need to be able to talk about this because this doesn't just affect a general amorphous "people". It affects women, people with female bodies. If the language becomes generalised, it loses its meaning. All women are people, but not all people are women.

    Thanks for coming to my angry feminist TED Talk, I'll probably not be here all night!

  20. Bloix said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:25 pm

    Careful, Celena, june will be calling you a TERF any minute.

  21. wanda said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 12:20 am

    I am a woman who has done all the things you mention- produced ova, gotten pregnant, breastfed (although poorly, despite lots of effort)- and I don't feel that those things define me, either as a person or as a woman. I would identify as a woman even if my breasts, ovaries, and uterus disappeared tomorrow (and at least one of those things I wouldn't miss). I don't feel that I as a woman need to hoard those things. I'm happy for a transmen to have access to safe menstrual products and to get parental leave if they give birth, for example. I see no harm in acknowledging the fact that there are some people who identify as men who have female reproductive organs that do certain biological things.

    I agree with you that the violence that is directed at people with female bodies on the basis of their bodies having female reproductive organs. That's true irrespective of their gender identities. Currently, we use the word "female" to identify people with certain reproductive organs, and we use "girls/women" to identify people with certain identities. We are trying to expand the vocabulary to talk about people and bodies, not suppress it. I teach physiology and the reproductive systems to college students, and I have switched to using terms like, "people with ovaries" or "people with testes" when talking about, well, people with those organs. It's a bit clunkier, but it's a lot more precise!

    Finally, I agree that gender roles are socially constructed, a lot more so that most people realize. I personally strongly identify as female but also strongly reject femininity and the female roles people have put on me. I have wondered how this could be, and I think the answer lies in brain development. The human brain is a very plastic organ; it picks up on subtle cues and learns from them how to act- hence the social construction. But the brain is also an organ that grows inside a fetus, and the fetus contains hormones. For example, let's say you have a zygote with XY chromosomes. Most of the time, the Sry gene causes the formation of testes, the testes make testosterone, the testosterone is aromatized to estrogen before entering the brain, and the high levels of estrogen acts on the brain to push it towards "masculine" in ways that people don't really understand even in mice. (There's a parallel process for most zygotes with XX chromosomes.) I say generally because this is a very complicated process that has a lot of potential points of variation. Biology being biology, any kind of possible variation does happen at low frequencies, which is how we get intersex people. It's very, very plausible to me that that's how we get transgender people as well, although that's a difficult question to actually study.

  22. Carl Voss said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 1:10 am

    Bloix, june would be correct to identify Celena as a TERF.

  23. maidhc said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 3:23 am

    I suppose the argument is that a 12 year-old is a "girl", not a "woman"? But still could be pregnant.

    "Pregnant people" has the great advantage of rendering all such semantic disputes unnecessary.

  24. F said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 4:20 am

    What's wrong with "… anyone who is, or expects to be, pregnant …"? Not long-winded enough for bureaucrats, perhaps?

  25. Andrew Usher said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 7:09 am


    Again, 12-year-olds have nothing to do with it. The only reason that age was mentioned is that the CDC had previously decided on it for reasons completely unrelated to pregnancy.

    To the point, the purpose of the CDC message was to promote vaccination by saying there was nothing to fear about getting it during pregnancy. Using the odd phrase 'pregnant people' can only distract from that message – and for the sake, allegedly, of a very small minority that would understand what was meant anyway. The data presented here show that 'pregnant people' is a still distinctly a minority use even in the news media (who will always lead any 'politically correct' language trend), so probably close to zero among normal people speaking uncensored.

    If you assume that 'pregnant people' will take over, then you should take from that: fear that anyone has that (literally Orwellian) power to change ordinary language for political purposes, whether you like the change or not; and that people could be so foolish as to think a simple linguistic switch could stop that very small group – 'pregnant people' self-identifying as non-female – from being thought of as weird. And these are repeated over and over when it comes to language use.

    To Wanda, what the objectors, Celena, and I are saying, logically, is not that pregnancy, etc. is essential to being a woman, but the converse: being a woman is essential to pregnancy. And a parallel statement could be made about men's role in procreation. And I must point out, assuming you meant it seriously, that 'people with ovaries' and 'people with testes' are not even more precise than 'women' and 'men' because the removal of those organs does not change sex or gender.

    It's unfortunate that the OP had to link to a Christian media source, but that's the only media source that would be willing to report such a story; I can not believe that objection to 'pregnant people' is confined to those that get their news from such sources.

  26. stephen .reeves said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 7:10 am

    this whole gender thing is full of contradictions , for example non binary people imagine they are neither male or female so how would they become pregnant ,as i only females become pregnant same goes for women who imagine they are men, if they are pregnant they are women or female , changing language to placate a small bunch of self centered narcissists erases biological men and women

  27. stephen.reeves said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 7:59 am

    Also how do you close the gender gap if people keep switching genders , or worse non binary ,does a company that wants to increase women in their organizations , choose men who imagine they are women or where does a non binary fit in. ? as for health concerns ,! non binary are still going to have men’s or women’s health problems which may be ignored if you have non binary in your ID or if you are a women who identifies as a man, and complain of stomach problems , and are misdiagnosed , when in fact they are pregnant , but the nurse assumes they were a man at the hospital , ( this did happen)

  28. languagehat said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 8:00 am

    Some trans men can get pregnant, as can those who are non-binary. That is why there's been this switch in the medical world to saying "pregnant people". It takes getting used to, but it's done to show sensitivity to people of various genders who become pregnant. And as a woman, I've never found it dehumanizing to be referred to as a person.

    This is so obviously correct that those arguing the opposite are clearly doing so from (largely unacknowledged) discomfort with the very idea of trans people. I hope the Log does not allow itself to become a safe haven for transphobia, as exemplified by the repellent comment above that talks about "women who imagine they are men" and "a small bunch of self centered narcissists." (And, as others have said, the whole 12-year-old issue is a pointless distraction.)

  29. V said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 8:39 am

    I would have even noticed it.

  30. V said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 8:51 am

    As Hat mentioned, there's a lot of implied transphobia at language log. I have trans and intersex friend who would be repulsed (as I am also) by some of the comments here.

  31. V said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 9:00 am

    Some of these intersex people have been paraded since age 7, showing their genitals to people studying to be a medical doctor.

  32. Chris said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 11:13 am

    In the UK, the term "expectant mothers" is usual. That seems to sidestep any problems of gender.

  33. Alexander Browne said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 11:28 am

    @Chris: Does it? I'd expect a pregnant person who doesn't want to be called a woman would not want to be called a mother either.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 12:14 pm

    Alexander — "I'd expect a pregnant person who doesn't want to be called a woman would not want to be called a mother either". Would you expect that they would want to be called a father ? If not, what would you expect that they would want to be called ?

  35. D.O. said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 12:21 pm

    Let me spell out some banalities and let's see where it gets us
    1. There are some regularities in language (including compositional meanings), but in general it is not a study in logic. Some expressions are just mean what they mean without a reason.
    2. There is nothing wrong in essentially the same thing being expressed in more than one way. Some people (and parrtos, don't forget parrots!) can say "pregnant women" and others can go with "pregnant persons". And some people can mix the two up.
    3. Collocations do not have a meaning simply inferred from the constituent words.
    4. A single word can have variable meanings depending on circumstances. "Women" can sometimes mean "biological females" and other times "adult women" and might or might not include transwomen and even bisexuals.
    5. People forever used language, including word formation, to press their ideological points. A director of CDC and a baptist minister are totally in their right to try to shape the language whichever way they want.
    6. A good many people don't care about how certain things are said (not LL readers, of course), but don't like to be harassed about "proper speech". And we might want to accomodate the people of those as well.

  36. Seth said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 1:03 pm

    @ Philip Taylor – isn't the obvious answer that "expectant mother" should be replaced by "expectant parent" in order to be inclusive? (I'm not taking a position on this, but it does seem to me to be what "they would want to be called"). The rule strikes me as that all biological terms which are gendered should be replaced by a gender-neutral form, otherwise it's exclusionary to anyone where their physical attributes are not identical to the most common associated gender.

  37. Alexander Browne said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 1:28 pm

    Philip Taylor: I'd expect there are some who'd pick "father" and others who'd choose "parent". As Seth said, "parent" seems the obvious choice to pair with "pregnant people".

  38. Philip Taylor said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 3:21 pm

    Well, your (Alexander's) expectations are somewhat different to mine. I would expect a person, regardless of gender, who is carrying a child, to identify as that child's mother ("carry" in the sense of "carry in the womb", rather than "carry in the arms", of course). And the person who provided the sperm to identify as the father, again regardless of gender.

  39. Terry K. said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 3:35 pm

    "Expectant parent" seems to me to include biological fathers, adoptive parents-to-be (when arranged before birth) and other non-pregnant people anticipating the birth of a child. So it doesn't to me suggest "pregnant person" the way "expectant mother" does.

    By the way, in response to the claim that only "woman" can get pregnant, women here clearly meaning reproductively female persons who have gone through puberty, that's not actually true. Some intersex people can get pregnant.

  40. Michele Sharik Pituley said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 4:19 pm

    V said, “There's a lot of implied transphobia at language log. I have trans and intersex friend who would be repulsed (as I am also) by some of the comments here.”

    I agree with V (& Hat) on this matter, & will go a bit further to say that my formerly-high opinions about some of the commenters on this thread have been eroded. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am shocked & dismayed by these essentialist comments.

    I had hoped that there would be no place for misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism, or any other kind of bigotry here.

  41. Amaya said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 5:03 pm

    Considering that this is the blog whose author(s) deliberately misgendered a they/them-using linguist not too long ago, I’m entirely unsurprised that the same is now parroting and allowing trans-antagonistic rhetoric with minimal couching. As a trans one-time linguistics student, I am every day more delighted that I opted to skip out on the academia end of the field after graduation, especially if these are the conditions tenured minds in the field are creating.

  42. David Morris said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 5:27 pm

    Australia's recent census had the questions 'Where was this person's mother born?' and 'Where was this person's father born?'. This attracted some complaints from some people for failing to acknowledge same-sex-parent families. I think the issue there is the same as here: the difference between biological sex/reproduction and sociological gender/identity/expression/relationship/role. (See especially Celena's and wanda's comments.)

    More flippantly, someone once said or wrote that the average person has approximately one ovary and one testicle.

  43. Andrew Usher said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 10:37 pm

    Terry K.:

    'Expectant father' is even worse in that regard than 'parent', so I'd certainly prefer the latter if there must be a change. Also (though it's pretty tangential) I think it wouldn't be outrageous to say that intersex people (not a homogeneous group) that can get pregnant are in fact 'reproductively female'.

    Philip Taylor:

    You give a common-sense opinion, but I don't think the words 'mother' and 'father' can be separated from gender like that. Indeed they are probably associated with gender more than with reproductive role, though of course the two have been considered inseparable.


    Yes, people have always used language to make ideological points, and I wouldn't pick on that when someone is speaking in his or her private capacity. But I referred to the new media collectively, who have enough power to be more concerned about. I also suspect that in this case, the CDC director didn't make the decision on her own initiative.

    Now what I wish to add:

    We've become popular, I guess. This LL thread is the first Google result for 'pregnant people' that addresses any usage controversy about it. It's not surprising that there are people that come here just (or mostly) to argue a non-linguistic point, even those like Stephen Reeves that apparently don't command standard written English. I won't presume to say how to deal with this in general, but I will say that the one LL should be a 'safe haven' for, as it has been in the past, is those with an interest in language.

  44. Twill said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 11:22 pm

    It seems to me that if you manage to problematize even "mother," you indeed are erasing real, strong identities shaped around common experiences shared by literal billions simply because it is conceivably discriminatory. "Mother" is not a generic donor of half of a child's genetic material, nor a generic member of the class of people raising a child, nor a person with a generic emotional bond to a child. Every alternative either reduces what is the primary identity for a great many people to mere biological functions that we can increasingly substitute with medical equipment, or merely an important figure in a child's life, with even those two strictly separable. No, the actual, unique experience of motherhood, a singular, irreplacable institution where every facet of life is entangled and united, is brushed away simply because some will never experience it in its fullness. This is a prime example of why many find these issues not merely divisive but actively hostile.

  45. Celena said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 12:44 am

    There has been no transphobia in this post or comments section. It is not transphobic to acknowledge biological realities. You cannot identify your way out of sex; sex change surgery is a misnomer because it merely replicates the sex characteristics of the opposite sex (which therefore implies that there is sex).

    I previously used to identify myself as trans and, at varying times, used "he", "she", and "they" as my preferred pronouns. As you can possibly guess, I no longer do. It took reading outside my comfort zone to discover that the identities I'd given myself were based on internalised misogyny and regressive stereotypes. I was ahead of the curve in my trans identity, in the early 2010s there was very little mainstream conversation about it so I actively informed others and did activism to promote "gender diversity". Had I been born now, I would have been diagnosed with childhood gender dysphoria, as I spent the entirety of my childhood and adolescence believing that I should have been a boy and my parents had given me surgery to make me female as they wanted a daughter.

    The reasons I thought this? I didn't understand my own anatomy, I liked boys' toys, and I was a struggling lesbian. (Also undiagnosed autism until very recently as an adult).

    There is nothing inherent about gender. There is no secret gender centre in the human brain that causes women to gravitate towards dresses. There is no one thing that even binds women globally other than being born female.

    I don't identify as my body being a baby-making-machine because it's not; that's a very right-wing view to take on gender, and as a very left-wing woman I object to those ideas. I don't even want children! I lack the general maternal instincts that are expected of women (that's gender). The fact is I don't identify as anything at all. I just *am* things. I don't identify as female, I am female. Every cell in my body is female and when I die archaeologists will be able to identify my skeleton as female. I don't identify as a lesbian, I'm a female homosexual and the general term for that is "lesbian". I have tried to identify out of being both female and a lesbian and neither worked. If it had worked, I wouldn't be here now. Gender dysphoria is terrible, and having been through it myself (and still sometimes struggling with it), I understand the struggle that many people face. However, this doesn't change the fact that gender is socially constructed and the internal fighting against gendered stereotypes does not mean your sex is incorrect or that your biology is wrong. As someone who is multiply disabled, I hate the idea being propagated that a person's body can be "wrong". You don't think I'd like to have a working body? I used to walk across my local city and now I can't make it to the bathroom sometimes without help. But it is my body and it is not right or wrong, just a body.

    Intersex conditions (or disorders of sexual development/DSDs as they are currently known) do not disprove the existence of two sexes, nor should medical disorders be included in the same breath as homosexuality and bisexuality. That is offensive to both people with DSDs and homo/bisexuals. "Intersex" is – you guessed it! – a misnomer. These conditions are variations on male or female, not in between or something else. This is like saying a person born without legs is "interspecies" because humans are bipedal and snakes have no legs. There are some DSDs that can only occur to males or females. These DSDs are real medical disorders that have repercussions beyond just sometimes ambiguous genitalia. Infertility, chronic pain, specific facial features, mental disabilities… These are medical disorders and they are not shameful. They do not prove anything to do with gender. They prove that sometimes genetic mutations and deletions occur.

    You can call me a terf all you want. It's nothing new to me. It's actually something I'm planning on researching – the generation of new slurs and the application of them to "undesirables" (because I am a linguist and have been lurking here for years). Women have been called many things throughout the years: witch, bitch, whore. Terf is just another of them. I write all of this comment from not only years of research, reading books and articles from both sides, but also from personal experience as someone who has been on both sides. Gender ideology as it currently stands was borne from queer theory (a field of study named after a slur…) and has become more like a religion than a critical look at gender. Everyone now has an innate gender soul that guides your choices in life from how you dress to whether you want to be passive and submissive or aggressive and dominant. The thing is, I don't believe in gender souls. I don't believe in souls full stop. I don't believe in gender as being anything other than an oppressive play society forces us to partake in any more than I do souls. I believe in the material world, things that can be tested using the scientific method and regularly replicated. The fact that there is no perceivable biological difference between me now having accepted my reality as a woman and me a few years ago calling myself anything but shows that these ideas that some people are just innately "gendered" "wrongly" is not scientific. There is still no perceivable biological difference (beyond the obvious different parentage stuff) between me and another female human being who does not identify as such. There aren't even "male" brains or "female" brains: this is something that has been disproven by fMRIs showing that the majority of a person's brain is a mix of tiny structures previously thought "male" or "female". As there are so many gendered variables in how people are raised and human brains are so amazingly plastic, it is impossible to tell how many of these differences could even be innate to begin with. The whole idea of "male" brains and "female" brains was pushed by male scientists as a way to explain gender roles. It's not oppression, it's biology! Plus ça change.

    I'd encourage anyone who has read what I have written here and in my previous comment and has been offended (or maybe curious) to read more about gender criticism/arguments against gender ideology. You are on an academic blog, so I am sure that doing research is not new to you. I am sure that it is probably very scary, because that is how I felt (I read my first gender critical pieces using incognito mode), but what is that fear of? Fear that it may resonate with you? It certainly did me and I was previously very vocally dead set against the scary "terfs". That's what happens when you read convincing evidence, though, isn't it? You change your views.

  46. Chas Belov said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 1:48 am

    @Andrew User re
    that 'people with ovaries' and 'people with testes' are not even more precise than 'women' and 'men' because the removal of those organs does not change sex or gender.
    Removal of ovaries certainly does impact their ability to become pregnant, which is what the announcement addresses.

    @Bloix, @Carl Voss:
    It is probably appropriate to address some comments as transphobic or at least ignorant. That said, can we please avoid labeling people on Language Log?

  47. Chas Belov said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 1:50 am

    Oops, the tag is blockquote not quote. Let's try again (although I may be blocked from reposting):

    @Andrew User re

    that 'people with ovaries' and 'people with testes' are not even more precise than 'women' and 'men' because the removal of those organs does not change sex or gender.

    Removal of ovaries certainly does impact their ability to become pregnant, which is what the announcement addresses.

  48. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 10:14 am

    Andrew Usher wrote: “ It's not surprising that there are people that come here just (or mostly) to argue a non-linguistic point,”

    If you’re taking about me — while I don’t comment very often, you may remember that I have been here for years, decades, even.

    Twill wrote: “ simply because some will never experience it in its fullness.”

    Are you arguing that adoptive mothers should not be called mothers? There’s more to parenthood than the contribution of gametes.

    David wrote: “ This attracted some complaints from some people for failing to acknowledge same-sex-parent families.”

    Not only that, but adopted children may not know the answer to that, assuming it’s asking for genetic parentage. If it’s asking for one’s legal parentage, then language acknowledging same-sex families is appropriate.

  49. Twill said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 11:37 am

    @Michèle Sharik Pituley I could retort with asking whether you suppose conceiving, bearing, and giving birth to a child are so incidental to motherhood that they are totally separable from it, despite any other aspect strictly necessitating those (even if there are an unfortunate few cases where biological mothers do not serve as mother to a child in emotional, social, etc. aspects). Identities like motherhood are holistic; they cannot be broken into parts without doing violence to the whole thing. How can we on the one hand say that we respect women and mothers, or anyone else for that matter, and problematize and deconstruct their entire identities on the other so that one's being is merely a jumble of atomized properties that may never cohere lest someone else's pile of unconnected attributes be excluded? We have seen the road it leads down, and it ends up at "you shouldn't (and don't) exist."

  50. Bloix said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 2:54 pm

    Celena – my apologies in the event you read me as belittling you. I was merely observing that your comment was sure to attract strong opposition. I suppose I made a hash of that, so again, I'm sorry.

    I do appreciate your second comment. It couldn't have been easy to write and it repays careful reading. I expect I'll come back to it over the next few days.

  51. Chester Draws said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 6:55 pm

    As Hat mentioned, there's a lot of implied transphobia at language log. I have trans and intersex friend who would be repulsed (as I am also) by some of the comments here.

    Grow up!

    People say offensive things all the time. I personally have major issues with people who talk about Communism as if it didn't always lead to economic failure and camps.

    Difference is, I don't expect everyone to censor their sites or language to meet my political views. Provided the person is not personally abusive, they are entitled to their opinions. When those views have been common for centuries, even more so.

    While you may be offended by some views, I would be equally offended by censorship of even the most moderate views that aren't "correct". One of the worst features of modern political life is polarisation.

  52. Andrew Usher said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 10:46 pm

    Chas Below wrote:

    Removal of ovaries certainly does impact their ability to become pregnant, which is what the announcement addresses.

    It wasn't, however, what the sentence I was replying to addressed. If you're going to go through older posts, know the context. I know that's irritating with non-threaded discussion – it is time for me to complain about that again? – but there's no better way.

    The erectile dysfunction thread just caused me to see another reason, not mentioned yet, why 'pregnant people' might seem wrong – very commonly we use 'X people' to say something negative about that group, more so than with 'men' or 'women'.

  53. R. Fenwick said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 5:15 am

    @Celena: These things happen *because* we are female, not because we identify as such.

    No, these things happen to people who are identified by others as either female or displaying behaviours culturally associated with women. And these things happen whether or not these people self-identify as female. Period poverty, abortion rights, the foeticide of female foetuses, rape, femicide, maternity leave, high maternal death rates, all of these issues occur because of cultural constructions based on perceived "biological characteristics", despite the fact that virtually none of those characteristics are exceptionless. And the cultural constructions of femininity are also responsible for high rates of male suicide and male-on-male violence as well as the higher rates of physical and sexual assault, mental illness, poverty, unemployment, and suicide suffered by LGBTI+ people.

    It's all tied in with the same societal misogyny, and it's all socially constructed. Moreover, the idea that all of these huge societal problems arise from biological truth would have the horrifying but inescapable implication that nothing can be done to solve them.

    I'm sure plenty of women would love to identify as men if it enabled them to escape these oppressions.

    Even if that weren't a misconstrual of what it means to identify as one gender or another: Do you know what a sworn virgin is? Not to mention the fact that trans people still suffer from their own gloriously awful array of oppressions, so women who did choose to identify as men would only be exchanging one set of societal oppressions for another; any cis woman who's paid any attention to the way trans men and cis butch lesbians have historically been treated would certainly think twice about doing so.

    to please an extremely small minority of people who are unable to acknowledge their biological realities

    Two things on this one: (1) How small does a minority have to be before it's okay to oppress them? And (2): Though the matter is deeply understudied because of the relatively recent growth of acceptance that trans people even exist, there are already strong signs that there are biological realities to those who are transgender. The phenomenon is still not particularly well understood given the comparatively small community of researchers, the difficulty of recruiting study participants, and the possibilities of complex interplay between neurological, psychological, hormonal, genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors, but twin studies demonstrate a strong genetic component and several studies have shown positive neuroanatomical correlations between cis people and trans people of the same gender identity, where your perspective would have predicted that the opposite would be the case. This summary is well out of date now, but is a reasonable snapshot of research up to 2013.

  54. R. Fenwick said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 5:22 am

    @Chester Draws: Provided the person is not personally abusive, they are entitled to their opinions.

    So personal abuse is off limits, but general abuse directed against an entire group is fine? Opinions are only worthy when they're informed. An opinion held to in the face of contrary evidence is prejudice, nothing more.

    When those views have been common for centuries, even more so.

    Slavery, racial supremacy, child marriage, lex talionis, homophobia, infanticide, and holy war all are views with venerable histories too. The age of a belief is no reason at all to cling to it.

  55. R. Fenwick said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 5:40 am

    @David Marjanović: Very much tangential to the issue at hand, but the youngest person ever to bear a child to term was a Peruvian girl, Lina Medina, who was widely publicised in the aftermath. When her son was delivered live in 1939, by Caesarean section, Medina was five years, seven months, and 21 days old. Her son died in 1979, at the age of 40, from a bone marrow disease unrelated to his mother's young age at his birth; by all accounts, Señora Medina is still living in Lima.

  56. Derwin McGeary said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 9:26 am

    I'm reminded of another British Medical English turn of phrase – "MSM": men who have sex with men. Again it is a little unfamiliar – I doubt anyone would say they identify as an MSM – but it specifies the point that is clinically relevant at the time precisely, more so than an identity like "gay" or "bi" or "straight, but…" or everything else out there in the sea of human existence.

    It's also worth noting that this is practitioner-directed literature. On an individual care basis nobody is going to correct a pregnant woman and insist that she refer to herself as a "pregnant person" any more than having school consent forms listing "parent one" and "parent two" means that I no longer get to introduce myself (and be referred to) as a dad. The difference is that people who deliver hundreds of babies a year can be primed to treat pregnant people who may consider themselves to be dads-to-be, or non-binary parents or whatever.

    If you move half a step back from the biology: is it preferable to say the "partner" is allowed to attend and support in the birth, or would that be erasing husbands, or fathers, or men? To be honest, I had a lot on my mind at the time and didn't make that particular field observation, but I think it was "partner" and it was a long way down on my list of concerns. Certainly I want the medics to focus on the job at hand and not worry about guessing whether we're legally wed or not: "partner" (and pragmatics) does the job.

  57. Andrew Usher said,

    August 24, 2021 @ 7:29 am

    MSM exists in America too; it has a useful purpose. But there's no attempt to replace 'gay men' in common usage and thus no controversy. With respect I think that's about the farthest thing from the issue here.

  58. Derwin McGeary said,

    August 24, 2021 @ 6:34 pm

    So, it's specialist language, with a useful purpose, and there's no attempt to replace common usage? Sounds a little like "pregnant people", which was used with precision by a professional, and might be expected to leak a little into the media and common usage, and may gain legs or may not in general usage. The CDC was offering medical advice to pregnant people, not advice on how you should talk. This is Language Log, not Gender Identity Log, to use an ancient snowclone, and the way people use language to refer to themselves, and each other, allows for transgender men to exist and not be a subcategory of "women". Not all people agree on that, but the law*, and a significant number of language users, do.

    I personally like the inclusive usage, particularly as it is alliterative and uses plain English words, although I don't have much occasion to refer to pregnant human beings en masse. Perhaps rather than the NOW corpus, it would be more instructive to see if it continues to gain popularity among practitioners.

    * in most anglophone countries, including the US as relevant here

  59. Andrsew Usher said,

    August 25, 2021 @ 7:40 am

    Well, not exactly. 'Pregnant people' is being used in messages and information targeted at the general public (as this one was), while I don't think MSM typically is. And there's ample evidence here that some people do want it to take over in common use; again, I don't think that's true with MSM. These are the reasons that it is controversial in the first place.

    I think that's about all I need to say to that argument.

  60. profan said,

    August 27, 2021 @ 9:53 am

    In nursing we use the word "parturient" which I guess is gender-neutral. What to do with the Latin words used in medicine, which originally had grammatical gender? We say a gravid uterus, but: gravida (a pregnant woman)

  61. Andrew Usher said,

    August 27, 2021 @ 5:35 pm

    Using gravida in English is bad grammar, anyway, though. If the noun is to be used it should be gravid, like the adjective – they were literally the same word in Latin! And that could be made gender-neutral, obviously (though of course I don't see that it needs to be).

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