The British Medical Association has issued new guidelines to its staff on discriminatory language. ‘A Guide to Effective Communication: Inclusive Language in the Workplace’, the 12-page booklet sent to all employees, describes, in detail, the ways in which staff should change their language to suit ‘an increasingly diverse society’.
These changes range from the banal to the bizarrely obvious. The guide encourages staff to switch the words ‘spastic’ and ‘mongol’ for ‘person with learning difficulties’ – a handy tip for all the BMA staff who still use the word ‘mongol’. It also suggests replacing the term ‘old people’ with ‘older citizens’, and ‘manpower’ with ‘staff, workforce, personnel, workers’.
The most bizarre suggestion is that staff should no longer refer to pregnant women as ‘expectant mothers’. Instead, pregnant women are to be referred to as ‘pregnant people’. The guide explains why: ‘A large majority of people that have been pregnant or have given birth identify as women. However, there are some intersex men and trans men who may get pregnant.’ In order to accommodate people who identify as male while pregnant, the BMA is suggesting that any reference to female gender while discussing pregnancy should be removed.
This is absurd. The number of pregnant transgender men is incomparable with the number of pregnant women. The idea that such a drastic change of language should therefore be enforced is completely blowing things out of proportion. What’s more, not only is the BMA instructing staff to refrain from using certain words, it is by connection asking them to adhere to a particular view about gender and sexuality.
All this aside, the BMA’s new guidelines cloud what remains a women’s issue. In removing any mention of the idea of ‘motherhood’ or gender-specific language from discussion of a woman’s pregnancy, the BMA is de-specialising what pregnancy is. Pregnancy is a thing that happens to females – it is, of course, important for both men and women, fathers and mothers, but while the pregnancy is taking place, it is happening within a woman’s body.