- The best way to highlight the important roles women play in our world and to keep fighting for a more sexually egalitarian society is to make sure our language and laws continue to recognize us in the first place. Tweet This
- Gutting gendered words from our language is not a surface-level act but rather a reflection of a movement away from recognizing that sexual difference is actually the starting point for civil rights. Tweet This
Representative Emanuel Cleaver’s (D-Mo.) now infamous “amen” and “awoman” prayer on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives gave birth to a great many memes. After much derision from those who pointed out that “amen” is derived from the Hebrew word for “truth” and is in no way a gendered word, Rep. Cleaver tried to play it off as a “lighthearted pun” intended to recognize, in his words,
the record number of women who will be representing the American people in Congress during this term as well as in recognition of the first female chaplain of the House of Representatives, whose service commenced this week.
That’s all well and good, and yet his prayer came the same day that Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a resolution to eliminate all gendered language in the House Rules and, when impossible to eliminate, requires inclusion of the opposite-gendered word, in addition to establishing a permanent Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The resolution’s purported goal is to “honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral.” Among the great number of rhetorical causalities are the words “he,” “she,” “father,” “mother,” “husband,” and “wife.” Apparently, however, “awoman” is okay for now.
It all seems farcical, and yet both the changes to the House Rules and correspondingly-timed gender prayer are just the latest in a rapidly accelerating trend to whitewash society of sex difference in the name of inclusion. The result, however—something about which I have written an entire book—isn’t just the denial of basic, non-offensive reality and science, but the erasure of women.
A policymaker like Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who is a “wife” and “mother” to five children, in addition to being one of the longest serving “female” members of Congress in American history—knows better than most how many of the last several decades were spent fighting for greater recognition for “women” in our laws. Those efforts continue to require affirming that women are different from men and require certain unique and equal protections with men in many areas.
Take, for example, the push to outlaw pregnancy discrimination. Or the effort to include prohibitions on sex-based discrimination in sports in civil rights legislation. “On the basis of sex,” the phrase popularized by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, was the slogan for women’s rights for decades. Now it is being devoured by the notion that sex differences are offensive.
Instead, women increasingly must fight for our rights with one hand tied behind our backs. For example, efforts to establish recognition for the essential work of bearing children with policies like paid family leave are hampered by the fact that recognizing a woman’s unique role and hardship in human reproduction is considered offensive and must be papered over with the so-called neutral and non-scientific label, “pregnant people.” We now have to be pregnant people and argue we are discriminated against on the basis of sexual biological reality at the same time. This is a task that no doubt would have boggled the minds of the earliest feminists, who found their work hard enough with reason and science on their side.
The reality is that society has always valued the contribution of men. The same cannot be said of women, both at home and in society. Women have spent the last century working to attain both respect for the domestic work that they (still) overwhelmingly perform as mothers and legal recognition for their equality of intellectual capacity with men, along with protection for their physical differences from men. Gutting gendered words from our language is not a surface-level act but rather a reflection of a movement away from recognizing that sexual difference is actually the starting point for civil rights.
The single best way to highlight the important roles that women play in our world and to keep fighting for a more sexually egalitarian society is to make sure our language and our laws continue to recognize us in the first place. To borrow from Rep. Cleaver’s own words, a better way to honor the distinction of “the record number of women who will be representing the American people in Congress” in addition to its “first female chaplain” is to continue calling them “women” and “female.”
Ashley E. McGuire is a Contributing Editor at the Institute for Family Studies. Her new book is Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Regnery, 2017).