Regular readers will, of course, be aware of the increasing reluctance by media outlets in Ireland, and the wider English speaking world, to acknowledge the biological fact that only females can become pregnant. The basis for this reticence is, of course, that some women have availed of laws allowing them to identify as men, legally, and, in order not to offend them, it has become customary to refer to “pregnant people”.
This is one of those things that has, in the best traditions of the culture war, become a values signifier. Saying “Pregnant people” instead of “Pregnant women” demonstrates to the listener that you are – sorry for using this word – woke and with it. Using “pregnant women” demonstrates that you are a troglodyte transphobe who wishes to offend transgender people.
Rarely enough, though, do we get to see how the sausage is made. Which is why this story from the Washington Post, one of the world’s marquee newspapers, is so interesting:
Updated stylebook guidance for The Washington Post told writers to say “pregnant women and other pregnant individuals” rather than just “pregnant women” in an effort “to be more inclusive.”
The paper’s Instagram team leader, Travis Lyles, posted a screenshot of the new guidance Friday afternoon on Twitter.
“While biology dictates who can become pregnant, it does not always reflect gender identity,” the guidance said. “If we say pregnant women, we exclude those who are transgender and nonbinary.”
The style guide instructed writers to “look at the context” in which they are discussing pregnancy and “try to be nuanced and thoughtful” while “striving to be as inclusive as possible.”
When writers are sure that the people they are discussing identify as women, the style guide said it is acceptable to say “pregnant women.” It’s also acceptable to say “pregnant women” when discussing a study that also uses the phrase.
“In other situations, to be more inclusive, use pregnant women and other pregnant individuals,” the style guide said. “Yes, this is a bit of a mouthful, but it has the benefit of being the most inclusive way to phrase it in a story.”
What this comes down to is very simple: It is a biological fact that only female human beings can become pregnant. “Woman” has always been the noun used to refer to female human beings. When a newspaper tells you that a “man” is pregnant, it is misleading you, and engaging in misinformation. It is doing so, usually, to appease a section of its audience, and, increasingly commonly, sections of its journalistic staff, who have fully subscribed to an ideology which says that gender and sex are two entirely different things.
Newspapers, however, rarely inform you of the reasons for their bias.
What’s more, by using the language of campaigners, they explicitly take a position in any debate on this issue. When newspapers abolish the use of “pregnant woman” and endorse “pregnant people”, they are essentially saying that they accept that the most hardcore trans rights activists are correct, and their opponents are incorrect. It is not reporting, it is activism.
For the record, here at Gript, our own editorial style is to use “pregnant woman”. If we encounter a case (which would be exceedingly rare) of somebody born a woman, now identifying as a man, who is pregnant, we will explain that the person concerned was born a woman, and now identifies as a man. These cases are so rare (and rarer still that they merit news coverage) that it is absurd to change the entire basis of our understanding of the English language to accommodate them.
Further, whether somebody who is biologically female can be a man is a matter of public and cultural debate. It would be wrong of us, as it is wrong of the Washington Post and other media outlets, to pretend that the matter is settled. So we will not do it.