The Plague-Ground – Remember When Women Were Called Women?

Last weekend, I was reading the proofs of my memoir which comes out in June.

My editor queried one word in this sentence: “Like most couples, we have our unspoken tics and habits that signal everything’s okay, or not.”

She wanted to know if I would change “tics” to “idiosyncrasies.” As she wrote in the margin: “Some people, especially in the health and disability communities, take exception to using it casually as it is an uncontrollable movement for people with Tourette’s and other neurological disorders.”

Arrgghh. …I didn’t mean ‘tics’ the way she did, as an involuntary gesture, but more as ‘a certain look’ or gesture that carries a signal. And far from involuntary, it’s deliberate and purposeful.

But I told her “sure”, even though my word was one syllable and hers was six.

I agreed because I don’t want to offend anyone, at least unintentionally, especially if they live with a nasty disease like Tourette’s, and if it’s important to them not to see the word ‘tics’.

I also agreed with something I didn’t really want to do because I’m worn down from the culture wars and their sand-bagging of my language.

As Cathal Kelly wrote in the Globe and Mail on Saturday: “The moral sands are shifting under your literary feet, constantly, inexorably, and a lot of time you aren’t wearing the right brain-shoes for it.”

Thirty years ago, I was speaking with someone from Goodwill Industries. She asked if I knew what her organization does. Of course I did. Back in the 70s, I’d dropped countless bags of used clothing at their depot at Jarvis and Adelaide in Toronto. So I said: “I’ve known Goodwill since it was Crippled Civilians.”


She was mortified, which I thought was a little misplaced. After all, she worked for the organization. I was just reminding her of its history. And the fact was, for decades, it was called the Society for Crippled Civilians.

So yes, certain words and phrases fall so far behind the times that they cause instant offence when used today.

But ‘breastfeeding‘? And……wait for it……’women‘?

It seems these words are not only out of date; they must no longer be used in polite company for fear of giving offence, like ‘crippled civilians’.

Last week Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals issued guidelines asking their staff to stop referring to “breastfeeding” and use “chestfeeding” instead.

Henceforth, “breast milk” is to be called one of three other things: “human milk, “breast/chestmilk”, or “milk from the feeding mother or parent.” The Hospital’s guidelines also advise replacing the word “father” with “parent”, “co-parent” or “second biological parent,” and steering away from the word “mother” altogether.

Their suggestion? “Birthing parent.”

While these changes aren’t mandatory, i.e. as a doctor, you won’t get fired for misidentifying the only body part that produces milk, they will appear on the hospital’s website, emails and letters.

Where did this linguistic virus come from? A team of “gender inclusion midwives.”

Their goal was to remind us that there are trans people and people transitioning from women to men who feel excluded and invisible when they hear “mother” or “woman.”

Yes, I’ll give them that.

But for all of us who fear the tyranny of the majority, this is the opposite of that. The vast majority of “people” who use a hospital’s maternity ward are “women.”

How vast? The Times of London said this “is meant to cater to the tiny number of natal females who transition to male socially but not medically and give birth. As of 2017, the UK had two such people.”


Even when you consider the entire population of 200,000 transgender people in Britain today, they represent just 0.58% of the 34 million British women.

As The Times notes, this is “not merely the tyranny of a minority but the tyranny of a minority of a minority.”

* * * * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile, in a different part of the universe, Jennifer Trosper, deputy manager for the Perseverance Rover landing on Mars, said: “I worked from my laundry room for the last several months and my kids are in Zoom school and they’ll walk in and then people say they can’t hear me because the washer’s going. This is not the way we would typically design a Mars mission.”


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5 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Remember When Women Were Called Women?”

  1. Can I still say I’ve had breast cancer? Is it now “chest cancer”?

    And I agree–“linguistic fog” and word-choice minefields abound. The world’s vocabulary changes so quickly it’s hard to keep up with what’s deemed correct. By the time I finish a first draft, I’ve worried more about the word-pits than about the substance of the book.
    Looking forward to your book, Bob.

    1. Interesting point about the time you finish a book….I finished my memoir last spring. But by last summer,
      my editor was taking me to task for being white and privileged…..something that previous editors hadn’t mentioned.

  2. I must say that I agreed with your editor over tic, Bob. But then I googled the word for its meaning and your interpretation was also supported.
    As for the British hospital – speaking as an ex-Brit, words fail me. I like to think of myself as a reasonably up to date woman (oops) but there are times when I feel very tempted to line up with Jordan Peterson,
    Also looking forward to your book.

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