The BBC has revised a news story to change the description of women living with endometriosis from those “assigned female at birth” to “women” after the phrasing received a torrent of complaints online, as part of a wider pushback against gender-neutral terminology.
The broadcaster released an article on endometriosis and the issues surrounding the gynaecological condition – suffered by around 1.5 million women in the UK – which featured Megan Morgan and Victoria Hatton’s story to help raise cognisance for endometriosis awareness month.
The feature opened with a description of some of the symptoms of endometriosis, including heavy periods, debilitating pain and infertility, before saying the condition “affects one in 10 people of any age in the UK, who are assigned female at birth”, which was then later updated to finish with “one in 10 women of any age in the UK.”
The phrasing prompted quite the furore on Twitter, with many women deeming it “offensive” and another example of how women’s healthcare is once again “overlooked and ignored.” Milli Hill, a bestselling author of books about childbirth and the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, spotted the term and sent a direct tweet to the BBC, which quickly went viral and rallied support across Twitter.
The MP Nickie Aiken echoed Hill’s sentiments and wrote: “Like 51% of the UK pop I was born not assigned a woman at birth. And after circa 500 periods, two pregnancies & labours & now the menopause I can confirm it ain’t no picnic so I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with endometriosis as well.”
Hill later told The Telegraph that she had her own experiences of being “attacked and de-platformed for questioning the ideological direction of travel”, after being previously lambasted by trans-activists for taking issue with gender-neutral phrases such as “birthing person.” She said the BBC piece was a “classic example of data being obscured by de-sexed language.”
The erasure of gender-specific language in women’s health remains divisive as the debate on sex and gender continues to rage online. Only a few days ago, Forbes tweeted a link to an article, explaining how Covid-19 doubled the risk of serious complications during pregnancy and used the term “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women.”
The phrasing ignited yet another backlash. “The word you’re struggling with is WOMEN it’s really not that hard to say is it!” one person tweeted. Another wrote: “Pregnant WOMEN. This is a risk factor that only women can have. It’s a women’s health issue.”
What’s more, a recent study has found that referring to women with gender-neutral terms like “birth-givers”, referring to breast milk as “chest milk” and replacing the word “mothers” with “pregnant people” can put women’s health at risk and jeopardise decades of work to improve gender bias in medical literature.
The paper’s authors write: “Desexing the language of female reproduction has been done with a view to being sensitive to individual needs and as beneficial, kind and inclusive. Yet this kindness has delivered unintended consequences that have serious implications for women and children.”
Jenny Gamble, a professor at Coventry University and one of the paper’s authors, said the researchers had acknowledged that words are changing to ensure inclusion but that sex-based language is “important due to sex-based oppression.
“Confusing the idea of gender identity and the reality of sex risks adverse health consequences and deeper and more insidious discrimination against women,” she said. “Sex, gender, and gender identity are not synonymous but are being treated as if they are.”