The Language of Abortion and the Generation Gap
By Emmy Serviss / Boston
I’m conflicted. With the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding Roe vs. Wade, there is some unexpected dissension regarding of all things, language.
David Leonhardt from the New York Times recently wrote: “The politics of gender identity are dividing Democrats, which may make it harder for them to agree on a clear message. Historically, Democrats have described abortion access as a matter of women’s equality. But some progressives now oppose using the word “women” when talking about abortion, because a small percentage of pregnant people are transgender men.”
Apparently, some experts are claiming that referring to “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women” is alienating to many people.
And to be perfectly frank I find this bewildering.
As someone who teeters on the Gen-X / Millennial cusp, I sometimes struggle with the knee-jerk response of, “But this was okay when I was growing up!” But then I remind myself that just because something was considered acceptable 40 years ago, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable now. Times change, and society changes with it. With language, it can be frustrating to retrain our brains to update how we refer to things or remove words from our vocabulary.
For example, when I was in kindergarten, we referred to sitting on the floor with our legs crossed as sitting “Indian style.” Eventually someone pointed out that, hey maybe this is an outdated and offensive term, and we should change it. And now, kids sit on the floor “Crisscross, applesauce.”
It’s a small change, but it’s an important change. There’s a lot of good in identifying hurtful language, acknowledging it, and adapting. Which brings me back to the pregnant people vs. pregnant women issue.
Some people feel that removing the word “woman” from the Roe vs. Wade and reproductive-rights debate diminishes the struggle for women’s rights, and instead turns the focus to the language. Organizations and publications are falling all over themselves to find more inclusive language, and then apologizing when they can’t please everyone.
This is where my perplexity lies.
Language around gender and identity has evolved a great deal in the last five years. Many people in older generations are confused and frustrated as to why things have suddenly changed so much, why we’ve stepped so far away from the binary male/female identities and where did all these other terms come from?
I would argue that just because gender and identity language has changed and grown in recent years, that doesn’t mean these concepts are new. But the younger generations have explored language and finally put a name to the concepts and identities that were always there – they just weren’t named yet. Or they weren’t yet acceptable.
I consider myself a straight cis-female. This means I identify with the gender I was born into, and I am only attracted to members of the opposite sex. In other words, I fit neatly into the binary identify that many people of older generations are comfortable with. Therefore, I don’t struggle to find language that connects to my identity, and to make others feel comfortable with my authentic self.
I acknowledge this privilege.
Having this privilege is why I advocate so hard for others to use language that best represents their true selves. And I’ll be honest, I still get confused sometimes. There’s a lot of terms being used that I’m still not sure of their meaning. For example, I still get mixed up on Ace and Aro. But a quick Google search helps to remind me that they refer to various types of romantic and sexual attraction, usually depending on the level of emotional connection.
But my point is that I don’t get it right 100 percent of the time.
And that’s okay.
Because I’m trying.
And so, I don’t see anything wrong with trying to be as inclusive in our language regarding reproductive rights, as we do regarding gender identity. Because yes, while most pregnant people are in fact women, there are pregnant people who identify as nonbinary or trans male.
What do we gain by intentionally excluding them?
Where is the hardship in trying to adapt?
Aren’t we stronger together?
I can understand the resistance. Change can be scary, and the familiar is comfortable. But growth comes from stepping outside your comfort zone. Maya Angelou was quoted as saying: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
Let’s do better, together.
Emmy Serviss is a Boston-based writer, actor and video editor. Once it is safe to return to live theater, you can find her performing with ComedySportz Boston and the sketch group SUZZY. When not on the stage, Emmy enjoys indulging in her new pandemic hobbies, laughing way too loudly and counting the days until Halloween.