Saying "People With a Cervix" Literally Kills Women (Especially Low-Income, English Learning, and Less Educated Women)
I received a highly offensive reminder from Kaiser Permanente recently: "People with a cervix should receive a screening for cervical cancer every three years."
Setting aside the fact that I am not comfortable receiving care from a medical team that thinks "woman" is a dirty word and would prefer to refer to me as body parts and vaginal discharges, this reminder made me angry because exclusive, woman-erasing language like this literally kills women, harming the most marginalized women the most.
Here's the thing about female anatomy: it's complicated, and largely internal. Last summer, I read The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina: Separating the Myth from the Medicine, by Jen Gunter, whom I've long admired for her scientific- and evidene-based debunking of ridiculous health psuedoscience.
What surprised me most about this book wasn't any particular fact I learned -- it was how much seemingly-basic information Dr. Gunter needed to cover before she could even begin talking about medicine. She explained that most women know very little about vaginas -- many don't realize they pee and menstruate out of different holes, or that there's no connection between the rectum and the vagina. Many don't understand basic facts about menstruation, pregnancy, or contraception.
Many don't even know what a cervix is.
Some women will go in for a pap smear even when they no longer have a cervix.
Point is, many women have a very limited understanding of their anatomy.
They know that they are women, and therefore have female anatomy. The rest, they leave up to the doctors.
So then the doctors send out a reminder saying, "People with a cervix should receive cervical cancer screenings."
If I don't know what a cervix is, how would I know whether I am a person with a cervix?
This woman-erasing language is meant to be "inclusive," because a tiny percentage of males identify as women, but obviously since they're male, they don't need female health screenings, and some females identify as men, but they are female and therefore do need female health screenings.
But in the course of "including" that tiny minority of people, Kaiser has excluded women.
In particular, women who are less educated, who did not receive proper sex education, or who are learning English. These women will disproportionately be excluded by woman-erasing language, and many will literally die of a preventable cancer as a result.
If the goal is to be inclusive, then why erase women? That isn't inclusive at all. If you want to be inclusive, shouldn't you say, "Women and people with a cervix," which would include transmen and women?
Especially considering that, objectively, it is better to risk possibly maybe potentially offending a transman than it is to risk killing women? (Though, honestly, I see no reason why a transman should be offended by the phrase, "Women and people with a cervix." How is this not inclusive?)
Or is the problem not about females at all? Is the problem about males?
Do males object to medical literature about female health care that calls women women?
Do males think they get to control the language women use to talk about their bodies, themselves, and their relationships?
I like to give people the benefit of a doubt, so I'm going to go with no. That would reek of male entitlement at a scale I cannot imagine.
This is obviously a silly, accidental oversight on the part of Kaiser. They were trying to do a nice thing, but they made a mistake, and I'm sure they're going to correct it.
Either that, or they're going to have literal blood on their hands (if they don't already). Hopefully women's health and lives and safety matter at least as much to Kaiser as male feelings.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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