We can’t?

Rosie DiManno is wondering why we can’t say ‘woman’ anymore, which is a rather self-contradictory thing to declare in a big bold headline that got published in a major metropolitan newspaper. It’s also counter to common sense and every day experience, since I don’t seem to know anyone who is actually opposed to calling women women, except maybe TERFs, who are generally extraordinarily confused about just about everything to do with sex and gender. It’s a really simple concept, though!

Here’s the rule: you should address people by the identities they prefer and declare themselves. Rosie DiManno bills herself as a woman, and I am perfectly comfortable with addressing her as a woman. If I were to call her a man, I would either be hopelessly addled about who she is, or I’d be trying to insult her with a gendered insult, which is bad. So, hi Rosie, Woman, Human, Bipedal Vetebrate, etc. Strive to be respectful and accurate, is all.

Most/all of my interactions with Ms DiManno, if I were to have them, would be genderless, and there are only a few circumstances when I would have to call her a woman. “The boat is sinking, Ms DiManno — women and children to the lifeboats, you first,” perhaps, or “The ladies room is to the left, ma’am”. There are occasions when sex and gender are relevant, and you do not want to mix them up, lest you seem addled, insulting, etc.

Then there are the situations where some nuance is required, because the world isn’t the simple binary she thinks it is. She seems a bit incensed about a scientific article.

“The Lancet,” the prestigious and highly influential British medical journal, put “Bodies with Vaginas” on the cover of its latest issue, referring to an article inside, entitled “Periods on Display,” a review of an exhibit about the history of menstruation at the Vagina Museum in London.
Maybe the editors, who tweeted the piece, were just looking for clickbait, with a pullquote on the cover teasing that “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of such bodies have been neglected” — this although the author had used the phrase “bodies with vaginas,” only once and “women” four times.

But…but…there are trans men who menstruate and have vaginas. There are trans women who do not have them, and do not belong in an article about menstruation. There are cis women who do not have vaginas, and large numbers of both cis and trans women who do not menstruate. Acknowledging their existence and medical relevance is not erasing cis women at all. But Ms DiManno seems determined to erase trans men (who we call “men”, to keep it simple) and trans women (called “women”, that forbidden word in the minds of TERFs), all by inventing a totally non-existent imaginary problem.

It seems to be a common disease among right-leaning people who need imagined persecution to help them keep up their own sense of identity, so they have to create grievances. Without them, their concerns do seem to be rather petty and indefensible.


  1. anbheal says

    Hmmm. Who knew. Thirty years ago in grad school I was out drinking with perhaps four women classmates, when an elderly bartender asked cheerfully “what can I get for you ladies?” One of them pounced upon him, “we’re not ‘ladies’, that’s classist, we’re ‘women'”. I should note that this was NOT in downtown Boston, where our grad school was, but in a little village on Cape Cod, where my family had a summer place (so, um, explicitly classist already). I knew better than to say anything, but a couple of the other women said “aw, Cynth, give him a break, he just wanted to know what you’d like to drink.” But fair enough — had he said “gals”, the other women might not have come to his defense.

    But the easiest thing is to just do as asked by the referred to person. I have a close friend who’s a college professor, at a liberal Boston-area institution, and he’s quite liberal himself, but he gets irked when criticized by a student for not employing a genderless pronoun, a la “they”, when referring to the student. I remind him that we have mutual friends who get frosted when someone calls them “Liz” instead of “Elizabeth”, or “Bob” instead of “Robert”, one woman who gets pissed at “Sue”, “it’s SUZANNE!”, and you only need to be told once, in that particular tone, and you’ll never say Bob or Liz or Sue again. I have a friend who calls me “Doyle”, as though I’m his butler, and friends who’ve met me through him start out calling me Doyle, until I mention that I’d perfer Ace or Albert. Then they apologize and say “oh, no problem, I thought Doyle was your first name, like the guy in The French Connection, Doyle Lonegan.” “That’s The Sting, buddy. But no, the name is Albert. Or Ace, for short.” So how hard is it to go with “they”, e.g., if the student requests it? That’s my argument to this professor friend, anyway.

    In any event, I have yet to encounter any women who object to being referred to as women — but as you suggest, how often does that particular issue arise. It strikes me as a right-wing contrivance, like The War On Christmas. But if any friend asked me not to call her that, I’d reply okay. It’s no harder than James or Catherine rather than Jim or Cathy. No trouble at all.

  2. raven says

    …all by inventing a totally non-existent imaginary problem.

    They do that a lot.
    Also known as making a strawperson and then setting it on fire.

    I see it all the time, even on Pharyngula.
    Won’t someone think of the poor strawpeople?

  3. pilgham says

    This reminds me of a totally farcical incident with the Chicago Tribune Womens section. Apparently there is a word you can’t put in a newspaper.

    In 2004, Ann Marie Lipinski had her Chicago Tribune staff manually pull 600,000 copies of the WomenNews section out of preprinted packages because of the headline, “You c_nt say that.” (The story explored usage of the vulgar term for a woman’s anatomy.) On Thursday, the departing editor showed the newsroom a reader’s e-mail that said, “You C_nt Leave.”.

  4. Tethys says

    I haven’t fact checked her claims, such as that nurses were instructed to refer to lactation as chest-milk rather than breast-milk, which is a symptom of this supposed persecution.

    She literally uses the fear-mongering cliche “trans activism run amok.” Amok!!

    Bonus, argument from dictionary that conveniently ignores the fact that English has lost its gendered nouns and grammar altogether, but once had three cases for gender just like all the other Germanic languages

    The movement has been spectacularly successful in the progressive West, although English isn’t as heavily gendered as, say, Italian or French. Truly, props for an undertaking that has given voice and power to a demographic historically oppressed, horribly shaped [sic]** and disproportionately subjected to violence!
    Merriam-Webster was the first dictionary to add gender-neutral pronouns “they” and “themself” to refer to a person whose “gender identity is non-binary.”
    But these examples go far beyond insistence on neutral pronouns, into an outer orbit of linguistics where both women, as a gender, and “woman” as a noun are being blotted out.

    What nonsense. The outer orbits of linguistics is quite the loaded phrase, much less the blotting out. Gender is not endangered, and using your language inclusively when writing medical legislation that applies to all people with a uterus is appropriate. Since the article is defending poor JKRowlings rude terfishness it’s clear that this opinion writer person is just whinging on about their own bigotry.

    ** I think it’s supposed to be shamed, not shaped. Either way it’s a helluva Freudian slip.

  5. says

    As a perinatal and Gyn nurse, I can let you know that we are to refer to a lactating person’s anatomy by their preferred terms. For our non-binary or male-identifying patients, this may mean chest-feeding or chest milk (I mean, it technically IS chest milk). For our female identifying patients, they usually prefer breast milk. But it is really not a big deal to say a different word if it makes someone else feel better about themselves. We are usually aware of a person’s preferences as a team when the patient is admitted in the same way that we are appraised of a person’s allergies or food needs.
    Granted, this is in the San Francisco Bay Area where we actually tend to accept people for who they say they are. This is highly likely to not hold true in other part of the US.

  6. Tethys says

    I see, so nurses have been instructed to use the terminology that is appropriate to the individual who is lactating?! Quelle horror!

    Nursing the baby and plain old milk seem to work fine too. I’ve never understood the need to describe human milk as breast milk. It’s a basic trait of mammals to have mammary glands that lactate, but apparently the human breast adds something special in this author’s imagination.

  7. Artor says

    “This although the author had used the phrase “bodies with vaginas,” only once and “women” four times.”

    Oh noes! we can’t say “women” now, because someone used a different term ONCE!

  8. whheydt says

    Re: Tethys @ #9…
    While grammatical gender has largely dropped out of the English language, a few traces linger. Ships are generally referred to using feminine pronouns, even when such a ship has a recognizably masculine name. It’s a holdover from “die Schiffe”.

  9. Tethys says


    Yes, skipa is a feminine noun though it has a few uses in old Norse. It is also the root of shape/shave.

    Just as a bit of trivia, if you learn to read Old Norse, you won’t have much trouble with the Old English of Beowulf or the Old High German Dar Muspilli because they are nearly identical languages. Pronouns are spelled differently and the T-D-Th shifting is evident. Der die das dar in OHGerman is the the them their in modern English, via Old Norse thá. Them. (m)

  10. Bruce says

    Shorter DiManno: The first rule of Twilight is that there is only day or night, only black or white. There have never been any shades of gray. The gaslighting is either the fire of ten thousand suns, or else it is uttermost darkness. Every day is either the summer solstice or the winter solstice; it cannot be in between, let alone both (as they say Down Under).

  11. Ichthyic says

    …this appears to be where we’re heading if language radicals get their way!

    …says Rosie. What I say? Now I want a tshirt that says “language radical” on the front.

  12. Silentbob says

    This is so silly, especially when it comes from older feminists who should know better. Feminists campaigned to remove “default male” from our language (eg. “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day… etc.). They campaigned for replace words like policeman and fireman and chairman with police officer or fire fighter or chairperson (or simply “chair”). Was that cancelling the word “man”? No of course not. Just recognizing our language contains bias toward the majority (or the dominant) and working to remove it. Inclusive language is exactly the same.

    “Only women have vaginas/cervices/menstruate/whatever”, not only erases people who are not cisgender, but has many times caused actual harm because of trans men, for example, being denied procedures that are deemed “only for women”.

    In exactly the same way that feminists raised consciousness about male bias, we need to raise consciousness about cis bias. The principle is exactly the same – not everyone belongs to the dominant majority and those who don’t are worthy of the same recognition and respect as anyone else.

  13. Silentbob says

    And as soon as I post that I can hear someone like DiManno saying women are not a dominant majority. But in context – medical care for those assigned female – yes, those who identify as women are a dominant majority.

  14. says

    It’s a holdover from “die Schiffe”.

    Nope. Die Schiffe is plural, and all nouns get the article “die” in plural, and believe me, it’s driving my poor students who have German as a second language nuts, especially since the declination kicks in double. Ship in singular is neutrum “das Schiff” Ships being female is more linked to them being “a sailor’s bride”, having a female name and figure head.

    I’m so sick and tired of that bullshit. As a cis woman I have so many important issues I want to discuss and do something about, but here we go again, going rounds and rounds and rounds. Tony Morrison’s quote about the function of racism being to distract you, the same is true for terfism, of, pardon, gender critical views.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    Next up: Jews are the tools of the Inuit world conspiracy. Covid symptoms are really caused by witchcraft.
    The Olympic medal to Bruce Jenner (now transitioned to woman) was part of a 45-year-long plot to undermine masculinity, bankrolled by the crab people*.
    *South Park has the story.

  16. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    It’s not just propaganda, it’s hilariously inept propaganda. “You can. Just call me one”, a trans woman says. That’s it. But it will work because the only way the vast majority of conservative ideas can be considered even for a fraction of a second is if they can control the framing.

  17. specialffrog says

    Rosie DiManno is The Star’s token conservative. If there is a bad opinion floating around you can almost guarantee she is going to express it.