Recently, as always seems to happen, the media sunk their teeth into the latest stories they could use to bash both trans people and feminists in the same breath — the lobby to the UN to refer to those who are expecting as ‘pregnant people’, rather than ‘pregnant women’ or ‘expecting mothers’. The UN human rights treaty, which may get a slight update, currently states that a ‘pregnant woman’ has specific protections against things such as the death penalty; but given that both men and non-binary people can also get pregnant, this treaty currently doesn’t include them. And you can bet if someone is trying to get away with discrimination then will look for absolutely any loophole that they can.
Man and woman (and non-binary and agender and third gender and gender fluid and a whole host of others) refer to gender identities. Male and female (and intersex) refer to biology; to hormones, chromosomes, sex organs, and so on. Typically female anatomies — i.e. ones with uteruses, vaginas, ovaries, oestrogen, and XX chromosomes — are the ones that bear children; but that’s only typical, and not all of those things are required to bear children. IVF can work if you’ve no ovaries, hormones can be replaced, and there are alternatives to a vaginal delivery. A uterus is probably the only bit that is completely non-negotiable when it comes to carrying a child.
Although sex and gender often stick to the ends of the spectrum, and often match up with each other as well (cis men with penises and testosterone, cis women with vaginas and oestrogen), the fact that we’re working within a spectrum means that there are an infinite number of different combinations of sex and gender.
Which brings us back to people who are pregnant. People who are pregnant will have a uterus that has a embryo or foetus developing in it. On the whole, the majority of these people are going also have ovaries and produce typical levels of oestrogen and also have breasts; and the majority are also going to be women — that’s why the language is being used as it is. But it isn’t covering everyone and that’s where the problem lies.
The UN charter refers to human people — who fall into men, women or other non-binary identities. The UN charter also refers to pregnancy, which can occur in a person with a uterus. The set-up for gender neutral language is already there, and whilst the majority of human people who have uteruses and are pregnant are women, not all of them are. Changing ‘pregnant women’ to ‘pregnant people’ does nothing to exclude women, but goes a long way to including people who are not women.
“Every pregnant woman is a pregnant person, but the reverse is not true. Not all people are women.”
Of course, not everyone is happy with this potential change in terminology. “It’s political correctness gone mad!” come the cries, as if the UN are trying to strip away human rights instead of just making sure everyone who needs to be protected is protected.
“If I want to refer to myself as a pregnant woman, then I will!” scream others, as if anyone is telling them they can’t. If you know you’re a woman and you know you’re pregnant, you are absolutely entitled to call yourself a pregnant woman. The law isn’t about you specifically — it’s about ensuring all the other people who AREN’T you are also protected.
Others still clamour that moving towards more inclusive language actually excludes women by refusing to name them — but this only makes sense if you don’t think women are actually people.
Every pregnant woman is a pregnant person, because women fit into the category of people; but the reverse is not true. Not all people are women. Pregnant men exist and pregnant non-binary people exist, and ‘pregnant people’ includes all of the above and all of the other possible combinations. Using more inclusive language is only a problem if you don’t want UN human rights charters to be as tight and loophole free as possible.
Sure, the UN could name all of the different groups of pregnant people, but given our 140/280 character attention spans these days, why would you when ‘people’ includes all and excludes none?