Language is losing its meaning and women are bearing the brunt of it

Language is losing its meaning and women are bearing the brunt of it

Recently, the Commonwealth Department of Health released a new guide for Covid-19 vaccinations, erasing all references to “pregnant women” and instead referring to “people who are pregnant”. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ new guidelines state that “a person’s sex can change over the course of their lifetime”. And in NSW, it turns out that a male who identifies as female can be named Woman of the Year.

This is just a small sample of the often covert and non-consulted changes that are taking place both in Australia and abroad when it comes to redefining or eliminating references to women so as to be ‘inclusive’ of trans or non-binary individuals. 

As a result, women are being erased from the reality of their own biology, crucial data informing public policy and services is recorded incorrectly, and biological males are able to win women’s awards, take the places of women on sporting teams and access women-only spaces, like prisons, bathrooms and refuges.

Eroding women as a sex class impairs the recognition of their needs, vulnerabilities and rights. And taking away the words that women need to speak about their bodies and lived-experience robs them of their voice.

We can’t keep denying reality in the name of inclusiveness because the actual effect is the opposite. Yes, we have to be compassionate and sensitive to trans-identified persons, but we also have to take a step back and look at the harmful and often absurd impact that this is having when it comes to public policy and our ability to use language in a way that makes any sense. Language matters but it is losing its meaning, and women are bearing the brunt of it.

Women should not have to suffer dehumanising terms like ‘uterus owner’, ‘individuals with a cervix’, ‘menstruator’, ‘people who bleed’ or ‘birthing person’, or have their unique experience of motherhood wiped from reality. They must not be made to sacrifice female places or spaces to biological males. Data recording sex must reflect biological reality, as differences in male and female sex impact many aspects of a person's life, and are important considerations, especially when it comes to health, safety and welfare. The erasure and redefinition of women must end.

There is no doubt that as a result, trans people will feel like they are being excluded in certain areas and their suffering in this regard should not be minimised. But neither should the harm done to women by policies that erase and redefine them. Policy solutions need to be developed that are considered and respectful, but that reflect reality. And we must be able to have a reasonable conversation about this free from political agendas and personal attacks.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

I’ll stand with women ▷