Inclusive language is highly desirable, because its absence can further various forms of discrimination and create false narratives about what is normal in some society. It can erase from conversations and render invisible entire groups of people, entire lifestyles, even entire cultures.
For example, menstrual products are better advertised to “people who menstruate” rather than “women.” Young girls, trans men, and non-binary AFAB people also may need these products. Meanwhile, many women do not need them for various reasons.
If a dietician wants to offer nutrition advice to “people who are planning a pregnancy,” they shouldn’t instead say that this advice is aimed at “reproductive-age women.” Firstly, some AFAB people who choose to have biological children do not identify as women (some non-binary AFAB people and trans men have children). Secondly, most “reproductive-age women” are not planning a pregnancy at any given time: maybe they want to remain childfree, maybe they already have kids and don’t want more, maybe they consider having a pregnancy in several years but not now. “Reproductive-age women” simply refers to people who identify as female and fall within a specified age range. It is wrong to imply that all of these people should nourish their bodies so as to better prepare for an upcoming pregnancy. That would have certain nasty connotations from the not so good old days when women were expected to be barefoot and pregnant at all times.
If a politician wants their election campaign to appeal to “suburban middle-class women,” then they shouldn’t interchangeably call these people “housewives” or “soccer moms” or “white women.” After all, among “suburban middle-class women” there are plenty of people who have full-time jobs, don’t have children, or aren’t white. Of course, a politician is also free to appeal to “mothers” or “housewives” instead, but either way they have to keep their chosen terminology straight and abstain from sexist assumptions that “mothers” equals “housewives” or that “housewives” equals “mothers” (there are mothers with full-time jobs and housewives without kids).
The words people choose to use create narratives about what is normal, how people ought to live, who they should be. In our bigoted society these narratives commonly sound rather cisnormative, sexist, racist, ableist, and xenophobic.
Above I mentioned multiple examples of what I consider non-inclusive and inclusive word choices. Sometimes using the umbrella term is better (“people who menstruate” and not “women who menstruate”); sometimes however it is better to use a more precise or narrow term (“people who are planning a pregnancy” and not “women”), because the wider term encompasses groups of people who shouldn’t be relevant in some context.
Whenever I state that the inclusive or more precise option is preferable, somebody will always complain that I am erasing some dominant group. According to them, when I refer to “people who menstruate” and “pregnant people” rather than “women” and “pregnant women,” I erase women. When I refuse to equate “middle-class women” with “mothers,” I somehow erase middle-class women who have children. I have even gotten complaints from mothers who are upset about the fact that in some generic conversation about parenting I use the word “parents” rather than “mothers” thus erasing their unique experience of being mothers as opposed to being just parents. Oddly enough, my refusal to equate “men” with “fathers” still hasn’t been criticized to this date. I guess that’s sexism—men are allowed to be childfree but every woman has to have children.
In linguistics, a hyponym is a word or phrase whose semantic field is included within that of another word, its hypernym. Other names for hypernym include “umbrella term” and “blanket term.” For example, pigeon, crow, eagle and seagull are all hyponyms of bird (their hypernym); which, in turn, is a hyponym of animal. If I refer to “birds,” then I am also including pigeons in the conversation. If I refer to “pigeons,” then I am excluding from the conversation other birds like crows, eagles, and seagulls.
Women are people. “Women” is the hyponym and “people” is the hypernym (aka umbrella term). When I say “pregnant people” or “people who menstruate” or “people who need an abortion” or “people who have suffered from domestic violence,” I do include women within these groups of people. I am not erasing women. Instead I include also girls, non-binary people, trans people, and men.
People who are used to having a dominant position in some context tend to imagine that the whole world revolves around them. They also tend to dislike it whenever these assumptions are challenged. The world is cisnormative. Many cis people enjoy their cis privilege and imagine that trans inclusive word choices somehow discriminate cis people.
Just like some decades ago sexist men imagined that gender equality discriminates men who lose their privileged positions. Just like racists imagined that non-segregated schools and restrooms discriminate white people. When it comes to bigotry, nothing really changes; we have to deal with the same bigoted attitudes and sense of entitlement from the privileged side again and again.
And as always, their arguments don’t even make sense. Choosing an umbrella term like “people” does not erase all those people who are cis, straight, white, and otherwise privileged within some context.