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Opinion | Are ‘Women’ Being Erased?

To the Editor:

Re “The Other War Against Women,” by Pamela Paul (column, July 4):

I don’t think “gender-neutral” language is neutral at all, and it’s divisive. Women have fought to be called “women,” not “babes” or “dolls.” We’ve pointed out how women are objectified, and we’ve asked for respect for our whole selves. That respect for the wholeness of being a woman and our dignity are stripped away by this “gender-neutral” language.

We’re supposed to be “pregnant people” or “birthing people” or “people with uteruses.” This is objectification on a massive scale, as women are reduced to sexless people with certain body parts or specific functions. It’s appalling.

I respect that transgender people are at odds with their biological sex and prefer not to refer to it. But the vast majority of us have gender identities aligned with our biological sex. We’re OK with that. We shouldn’t be denied our particular identity and its expression.

Donna Yee
Walnut Creek, Calif.

To the Editor:

I’m trans. I’m in my mid-20s, and I live in a left-leaning part of the country. Contrary to what Pamela Paul’s article seems to imply, I use the word “woman” all the time. My queer and trans friends use it too. Speaking the word doesn’t make me burst into a column of flame. It doesn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. I feel no spontaneous urge to cancel my friends if they say the phrase “women’s rights.”

But what does frustrate me, profoundly, is reading an opinion column like this — a piece that implicitly scapegoats trans people for the reactionary anti-feminist backlash that this country is living through.

Leaving aside the claim that trans people are somehow committed to imposing fixed gender roles — the whole point of being trans, to my mind, is that gender is not fixed but rather malleable, fun, something that each of us should be able to figure out for ourselves — does Ms. Paul really, truly think that we pose an existential threat? That people who advocate for trans rights aren’t invested in equal rights for women, reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy or dismantling the patriarchy? That women’s liberation and queer liberation aren’t inextricably bound up in one another?

Pieces like this capitalize on and provide cover for fear and disgust, for the confused hostility many people feel when they recognize someone as trans in public. What a gift to give the country’s ascendant right after one of their biggest judicial victories in decades.

Henry Robinson
New Haven, Conn.

To the Editor:

As a child in the early 1970s I recall complaints about awkward language as Americans transitioned from “men” to “men and women,” from “he” to “he/she,” from “Mrs.” or “Miss” to “Ms.”

The inconvenience of becoming accustomed to new words was worth it, allowing more people to feel part of the conversation, and the new words became routine.

Thus it is disheartening to hear Pamela Paul — someone who benefited from those changes — arguing to use language that makes other marginalized individuals feel excluded. It is a small sacrifice to make our fellow humans feel a little more welcome.

JoAnn Santiago
Billerica, Mass.

To the Editor:

Pamela Paul’s piece was a breath of fresh air. Thank you for publishing an opinion with which many self-described liberal women agree, but which is for some reason becoming taboo. I am all for ensuring that trans men and women enjoy their full civil rights, but it should not mean that 50 percent of the population must be erased from our common discourse.

As someone who has recently given birth to my first child, I was especially galled to be referred to as a “birthing person” during my pregnancy. I wonder also why men are not now being referred to as “sperm-producing bodies” or another such demeaning term. Surely it would only be fair to reduce all people on Earth to a collection of body parts.

Helen Rappe Baggett
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

I find Pamela Paul’s opinion that a far-left group of trans activists are trying to erase women very troubling. I have heard this position before and it reads very much like a feminist version of the racist “replacement theory” that is popular among white supremacists: that a far-left cabal is conspiring to erase the white race by empowering nonwhites.

In this version, though, a far-left group of trans activists is trying to erase women by empowering trans people. I think both theories are false and, if anything, say a great deal about the dark side of human psychology: People have a need to equate their status with race or gender, and they then feel threatened when someone comes along who disrupts the hierarchy that gives them that status.

David Coleman
Vancouver, British Columbia

To the Editor:

I needed tampons the day I got my double mastectomy. When I made the choice to exert my bodily autonomy and get lifesaving care as a trans person, I also needed reproductive care for menstruation. Why? Because I am not a woman and I still have a uterus.

Breasts or not, identity or not, my uterus exists. It menstruates. It needs regular pap smears to screen for cervical cancer. It could be impregnated. My uterus does not care if I am trans. My uterus does not care if you are scared or confused about its existence. My uterus does not care if you think women’s rights are endangered by acknowledging its existence. My uterus has vital health care needs, just like your uterus.

Moving away from the gendered language in all reproductive health care (prostate exams are not just for men!) provides protection and inclusion for vulnerable members of our communities. It does not erase, it illuminates. It strengthens the coalition of people endangered by the patriarchy. It gives us more power to fight for women’s rights.

A. Henry Carnell
Medford, Mass.

To the Editor:

Thank you, Pamela Paul. For the last year, I have watched in dismay and sadness as the media has rapidly backed away from the nouns “women” and “girls.” I know this shift is well intentioned and designed to encourage inclusivity, but it’s clunky and confusing at best, and at worst works to erase those of us who believe such issues as parity in health care remain unresolved for a vast majority of women in this country. Writing us out of the narrative cannot be the solution.

Gloria Smith
San Francisco

To the Editor:

I started out in reproductive justice advocacy over a decade ago, when warnings about Roe’s future were often dismissed. I’ve never been less happy to be vindicated. But I am grateful for the trans community, who have been stalwart advocates for reproductive rights long before I came of age.

The trans community understands intimately the importance of bodily autonomy and self-determination, and I’ve never been to an abortion rights demonstration that did not have trans people standing shoulder to shoulder with us.

I reject vehemently any attempt to cast trans people as threats to “biological” women, especially amid a rising tide of anti-trans legislation nationwide. The anti-trans and anti-abortion movements, along with the re-mainstreaming of overt homophobia, are tightly connected, ideologically and tactically. Anyone who values liberty should not give any of them an inch.

Lauren Rose

To the Editor:

Pamela Paul argues that women should not be erased, a sentiment with which I and many others agree. But she is wrong to call progressive attempts at inclusive language (while unwieldy at times) misogyny. Her attack is filled with false equivalencies and vitriol.

Ms. Paul argues that “tolerance for one group need not mean intolerance for another,” but then demonstrates her own intolerance by failing to show empathy and nuanced understanding of the real struggles and problems seeking to be addressed by other oppressed individuals.

Heather Hewett
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
The writer is an associate professor and chair of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at SUNY New Paltz.

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