A leader on the staff of The Washington Post leaked the section of its new stylebook, which encourages writers “to explain that transgender and nonbinary people can also become pregnant” and to introduce gender-neutral phrases like “pregnant individuals” in place of the use of “pregnant women.”
Other acceptable substitutes for the female gender, according to the Post, include “the pregnant population” and “pregnant patients.”
“While biology dictates who can become pregnant, it does not always reflect gender identity,” according to the guidance of the Post, one of the most influential newspapers in the country. “If we say pregnant women, we exclude those who are transgender and nonbinary” (emphasis in original).
Travis Lyles, who leads the Post’s Instagram team, tweeted a picture of the new, “nuanced” guidelines last Friday. Although Lyles made his original Twitter post private after it attracted media attention, according to Luke Gentile at The Washington Examiner, screenshots of the original post remain online.
Rather than instituting a consistent usage or select one given neologism, the Post’s editorial team firmly instituted an intersectional approach that determines word choice on a case-by-case basis. The newly adopted stylebook instructs reporters to “look at the context in which we are discussing pregnancy” and “try to be nuanced and thoughtful in our language, striving to be as inclusive as possible.”
“If you are dealing with a situation in which you know the people identify as women, then you can appropriately use the phrase, pregnant woman or pregnant women. The same is true in a situation such as writing about a study that refers only to women,” the editors say.
But in all other contexts, “[i]t would be safest to mimic the use pregnant women and other pregnant individuals,” they continue. “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.”
They helpfully provide a handful of other choices to use in place of any phrase that implies only women have uteruses or get pregnant. “If a shorter phrase is needed, especially in headlines, the phrase pregnant individuals may be used (or even pregnant people if space is really tight).”
Yet the guidelines also point out that women may bristle at the new vocabulary because it excludes their natural biological ability to conceive and bear children — which the Post seems to portray as a source of patriarchal oppression.
“We should be careful about [these phrases] becoming the de facto usage” in stories about pregnancies, “because it can come across as exclusionary to women, who are already marginalized and for whom it is impossible to separate the experience of being pregnant and giving birth from the inequities that persist specifically because of their biology.”
With its quasi-public directive, The Washington Post joins a growing line of left-of-center individuals and institutions that have gradually replaced “women” with gender-neutral terms when referring to uniquely female functions:
- In June, President Joe Biden’s $6 trillion proposed budget included the term “birthing people”;
- In May, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) told the House Oversight Committee about the plight of “black birthing people”;
- In August, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tweeted that “the increased risk of severe illness for pregnant people” made vaccination against COVID-19 “more urgent than ever”;
- In September, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) toggled between using the terms “women,” “people who give birth,” and “menstruating people” during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper;
- Later in September, the British medical journal The Lancet ran a headline that read, “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected”; and
- Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said that the decision about whether to have an abortion should be left to “people that [sic] have babies” on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
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