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Hopefully this is the right forum for this. I work in public health and frequently need to write documents and reports about women because, ya know, sex matters for things like statistics and discrimination and inequitable access to care and maternal health and so on. I have known for years that the day was coming where we'd start getting guidance telling us to say "pregnant persons" and that finally happened this week in a document I wrote about the specific discrimination faced by pregnant women with a particular disease (I won't say what in case I out myself, although I'm probably just paranoid).

I made my case to my supervisors that I had written the document using the word "women" to call out misogyny and discrimination on the basis of sex (and obviously, because women are real) and I think that my carefully chosen words actually resonated with them, but nevertheless, we had been advised to say "pregnant person" by the powers that be and I was told to get on with it. However, now the problem is that the report is inaccurate in many places. When I write things like "women are at higher risk for [disease]," I can't simply replace that with "people are at higher risk" or "pregnant people are at higher risk" - that's not the same thing. We all know this. I changed it back to "women" wherever I could and added a footnote explaining why, but I'm sure that I'm going to get pushback. Has anyone else dealt with this - where the proposed "inclusive" changes to your work have distorted the meaning and misrepresented the evidence? At the very least, it turns my report into a clunky, garbage piece of writing. Any ideas for pushing back in a way that's effective and that won't totally out me as a radfem in a professional setting?

ETA: My ultimate goal in my public health work is to promote the human rights and health of women and I've never apologized for that - but I think a lot of people think that I include TIMS in that. They assume I do because I am politically progressive. Do I disabuse them of that notion?

Hopefully this is the right forum for this. I work in public health and frequently need to write documents and reports about women because, ya know, sex matters for things like statistics and discrimination and inequitable access to care and maternal health and so on. I have known for years that the day was coming where we'd start getting guidance telling us to say "pregnant persons" and that finally happened this week in a document I wrote about the specific discrimination faced by pregnant women with a particular disease (I won't say what in case I out myself, although I'm probably just paranoid). I made my case to my supervisors that I had written the document using the word "women" to call out misogyny and discrimination on the basis of sex (and obviously, because women are real) and I think that my carefully chosen words actually resonated with them, but nevertheless, we had been advised to say "pregnant person" by the powers that be and I was told to get on with it. However, now the problem is that the report is inaccurate in many places. When I write things like "women are at higher risk for [disease]," I can't simply replace that with "people are at higher risk" or "pregnant people are at higher risk" - that's not the same thing. We all know this. I changed it back to "women" wherever I could and added a footnote explaining why, but I'm sure that I'm going to get pushback. Has anyone else dealt with this - where the proposed "inclusive" changes to your work have distorted the meaning and misrepresented the evidence? At the very least, it turns my report into a clunky, garbage piece of writing. Any ideas for pushing back in a way that's effective and that won't totally out me as a radfem in a professional setting? ETA: My ultimate goal in my public health work is to promote the human rights and health of women and I've never apologized for that - but I think a lot of people think that I include TIMS in that. They assume I do because I am politically progressive. Do I disabuse them of that notion?

13 comments

[–] tervacious 15 points (+15|-0) Edited

I've had similar experience. I'd put it like this: if we use terminology that makes sense to us internally (as an organization) but not to the outside world, the women who need our services won't be able to find us. If we categorize women as "cervix havers," for instance the population most at risk for cervical cancer does not know that that is how they're being categorized. Provide your bosses or whoever is making these decisions with search engine info that shows what their target audience is searching for to make the case. If the target audience uses colloquial terms, put those terms into your documents. Otherwise you won't get hits/conversions/customers/patients etc.

I know it's not an apples to apples comparison but this is going on a lot. Good luck to you sister.

[–] Kittyrose 11 points (+11|-0)

I can't recall quite who shared it, it may be fond of beetles on twitter, but WHO guidance even mentions that women are generally unaware of women specific illnesses like cervical cancer etc and thats without the complications of whether its ones first language or any disabilities.

[–] vauqueline 12 points (+12|-0)

I would say let people think what they want about your private beliefs, and strive to continue making your information accurate and accessible. People who don't have English as a first language (and plenty of people who do) have enough trouble as it is without navigating wokespeak, so using "women" when that's the correct word to use will decrease misunderstandings, and "people who need access to this information may not even understand it applies to them" would be a better approach to take.

[–] NotCis [OP] 14 points (+14|-0)

Absolutely right - the best example I've come across is how when you say things like "people with cervixes should be screened for cervical cancer," you automatically exclude the ~30% of women who have no idea what a cervix is and you've just made the sentence 10x harder to understand for women who speak English as a second language.

[–] MelMarieCurebee 9 points (+9|-0)

I have two somewhat relevant experiences that will lead to my suggestion. Both relate to abstracts I went to submit to my supervisors before they were submitted to a conference. The first one I submitted to my advisor. He told me to make various changes to the abstract, so I changed it the way he told me to change it. I sent it back to him, and no joke, he told me to undo all his edits. Almost character for character, my final version was identical to the one I originally sent to him. The second one, I had been complaining to a male friend of mine that I had started to develop an unclear "feminine" writing style over the years because of so much nitpicking of my wording, and he offered to review my abstract for me before I sent it to my supervisor. He edited out all of the couching language I had put in. I sent it to my supervisor, and the edits that came back were for me to not only put the couching language back in, but to doubly couch things I had singly couched. (He didn't do this in his own writing, he was totally couching my language because I was a woman and he expected that from a woman). The anonymous review panel then instructed us to remove all the couching language.

So, what I think might be a "fun" exercise for you, is for you to go over the top with the changes (mix and match these suggestions). Don't make it unclunky, make it very clunky.

  • If "women are prone to this disease" is unacceptable, insert a biology lesson about people with XX chromosome and all these other traits being prone to the disease.
  • Include phrases like "most in the general public refer to this group of people as 'women'" in parentheticals or footnotes.
  • Instead of discussing "pregnancy" or "breasts", use only technical descriptive terminology for that. "The period of time when a fetus is developing in a womb prior to childbirth" or "fatty tissues in the upper torso area that have areolas and are commonly used for producing food for those too young to consume solid foods".
  • Change your entire writing style to reflect "pregnant people" expanded adjectival descriptions. The whole thing. Take the style guide to its extreme form. It's not a doctor's visit, it's a visit to a medical degreed person. It isn't a blood pressure monitor, it's a device that's for the determination of blood pressure. Pretend their feedback is exactly as confusing as it is.

My personal favorite suggestion is the last one. Let them edit it so it's not ridiculous. Maybe they'll get the point in the process. It'll at least be harder for them to miss what the problem is.

[–] Verdandi 8 points (+8|-0)

I need to know what your supervisors response to that anon review was. I need to know what he said when confronted with his ridiculously sexist suggestions.

[–] AmyHousewine 3 points (+3|-0)

Yes.

This reminded me of something I did a few years ago. Someone was testing software that could distinguish whether the author was male or female. (This was when scientists still understood that there were two categories of humans with regard to sex.) I entered a chunk of a personal email and it said the writer was female. Then I entered a chunk of an academic paper I wrote and it said the author was male. The vast majority of my professors and mentors have been men. At the time I was proud of myself because I thought that meant I was doing professional writing “right.” Now I am much more troubled by that.

[–] MelMarieCurebee 2 points (+2|-0)

Nothing, he ignored it. Just like my previous supervisor ignored that he told me to change all these unnecessary things in a perfect abstract just to have me change things, and then realized they were stupid edits. (I don't even remember if that abstract went out for review before he requested the changes or not, but either way, the only things he wanted me to change were the words he gave me).

[–] Womancup 7 points (+7|-0)

"fatty tissues in the upper torso area that have areolas and are commonly used for producing food for those too young to consume solid foods"

😂😂😂😂

[–] NotCis [OP] 2 points (+2|-0)

Ha, I would love to do that and maybe I will! I'd hate to have people think that I actually, truly believe that it's good writing, though, so perhaps I'll lead with "I took ___'s suggestions and reworked everything to be as inclusive as possible. Let __ know what you think!"

[–] Verdandi 5 points (+5|-0)

Why can't you tell them exactly what you told us, that changing the language changes the entire meaning? Can't they understand that concept? If not, how are they currently employed?

[–] NotCis [OP] 1 points (+1|-0)

Yeah, that's what I did for the parts that I left as "women," but honestly, you'd be surprised at how bad some of my company's professional writing is. I don't know that they're going to even notice the harm to the meaning because the focus is on doing what the client has asked for...

[–] feralfeminist 1 points (+1|-0)

They're trying to get you to include TIFs and "AFAB enbys" [sic], not TIMs. The thing is, saying "women" DOES include those people because... they are women.