In the “Dune” series of science fiction novels, biotechnologists manufacture clones in breeding contraptions called “axlotl tanks.” Readers eventually learn that these “tanks” are the uteruses of unconscious lobotomized women—motherhood reduced to the status of gestating vats with the female victims of this despotism dehumanized by a lexicon that eradicates their humanity.
Thankfully, in the here and now, we understand that deploying such crass terms to describe women undermines their equal moral worth. Or, at least, I thought we did. But then, society’s intellectual and cultural leaders went “woke.” And suddenly, after decades of progress—indeed, when it is now deemed misogynistic to use once common descriptors such as “chicks” or “broads”—women are being reduced to crass identifiers generally related to their female body parts and/or biological functions.
The most recent example appeared in the pages of the world’s oldest medical journal, The Lancet. In an article reviewing a museum exhibit called “A Brief History of Periods,” the writer refers to biological females as “bodies with vaginas.”
“Bodies with vaginas?” How misogynistic can you get? Imagine if Donald Trump had described women in such a sexist and demeaning way. The decibel level of media screaming would shatter ear drums!
Instead, we hear the sound of silence, or worse, applause. What’s going on? Blame the transgender moral panic. Since a small percentage of girls and women identify subjectively as male and some boys and men as female, the woke thinking goes, in the name of equity and inclusion our lexicon must recognize not all women have female genitalia—and that some men do.
And in that redefining, we can’t just call women, “women.” That is hateful! That is not inclusive! That is transphobic! So, a common identifier must be found to describe those born biologically female without referencing their born sex, hence the definition of individuals by their gynecological parts.
Here’s another example. When JAMA Pediatrics advocated allowing mastectomies for adolescent girls diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the article referred to girls’ anxiety at developing breasts as “chest dysphoria” and mastectomies as “chest surgery.” The idea is to validate the patient’s aversion to female secondary sex characteristics, but that description robs the condition and procedure of their essential meaning.
It isn’t just the medical journals. A few years ago, a piece in The Atlantic referred to nursing an infant as, “chest feeding.”—instead of breast feeding. The story involved a transgender man who had given birth and was able to nurse even though a mastectomy had been performed removing outward breast tissue.
The Biden administration has engaged in the same vocabulary reductionism. Recently its budget proposal—of all places—referred to mothers as “birthing people.” Similarly, as Maggie Hroncich pointed out recently in a column in The Federalist, Democrat Congresswomen have referred to African-American mothers as “black birthing people,” all justified by the supposedly feminist NARAL, which Tweeted: “When talking about birthing people, we’re being inclusive. We use gender neutral language when talking about pregnancy, because it’s not just cis-gender women that can get pregnant and give birth. Reproductive freedom is for *every* body.” But Hroncich has the better argument when she writes, “the left’s terminology is not just about eradicating certain words but eventually eradicating the uniqueness of a mother’s experience.”
And how’s this for stripping women of their personal essence? An article in the Journal of Medical Ethics coined a new gender identifier based on chromosomes. In an article advocating that biological males have a fundamental human right to receive uterus transplants, the author describes born females who so identify as, “XX women” and biological males who identify as women as “XY women,” We shouldn’t complain, I guess. At least the author used the word, “women.”
The worst example of this dehumanizing word deconstruction was produced by the gay rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign in its booklet “Safer Sex for Trans Bodies” (pdf). First, the booklet erases “vagina” as the proper word for a biological woman’s sex organ and replaces it with “front hole.” Not only is that crude and misogynistic, but juvenile. It reminds me of a term a toddler might employ.
Next, the guide engages even greater surrealism by claiming that real vaginas are those surgically crafted during transition surgery from male to female: “VAGINA: We use this word to talk about the genitals of trans women who have had bottom surgery.” Good grief, so a biological woman does not have a vagina, but a biological man who identifies as female and has been surgically altered to reflect that belief, does. The mind absolutely boggles.
The crassification (if you will) of feminine descriptors isn’t limited to the purveyors of transgender ideology. The fertility industry now deploys verbiage that is eerily reminiscent of the fictional axlotl tank.
With invitro fertilization, it is quite common for women to bear babies who are not their biological offspring. They used to be called “birth mothers.” Whatever one thinks of that practice, the term at least recognized the essential nature of the woman’s relationship with the baby she bore. Later, such women came to be called “surrogate mothers,” which is less personal because it takes out the “birth” part, but still recognizes the essential fact of the surrogate’s motherhood.
Now, fertility industry parlance calls these women by the impersonal term, “gestational carrier,” a dehumanizing trope that strips the woman who gave birth both of her humanity and her motherhood. Like the axlotl tank, she is merely the sum of her gestational functions. Ugh.
Why does any of this matter? The words we use to describe ourselves and our interpersonal relationships profoundly influence how we think. By neutering the language—and even reducing female identities to mere body parts or functions—we deny our mothers and daughters, wives and sisters, the essential feminine aspect of their personhood. That not only objectifies women and girls but sets us on the road to social anarchy.
This is not to say we should ever denigrate people who are transgendered or treat them in a demeaning way. All of us deserve equal respect as human beings. But it is to say that we should not yield the language to irrational cultural hegemons who wield their deconstructing lexicon as a cultural cudgel to remake society in their ill-conceived woke image.