MSNBC Panel: Using ‘Women’ in Abortion Language ‘Excludes Trans Men’

June 3rd, 2015 3:12 PM

If you’ve ever wondered whether modern progressivism could create an argument so convoluted, contradictory and esoteric that it collapses on itself, we have an answer. And it comes at the expense of feminists who believe they can fight for “women’s rights” without running afoul of their own speech police.

During “All In With Chris Hayes” on June 2, the host fostered a discussion among media representatives on the “reaction to Caitlyn Jenner” or “The Jenner Effect.” In the middle of the conversation, Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer for The Nation, suggested that using the word “women” in abortion language “excludes trans men.”

Directly before Goldberg’s comments, Huffington Post’s Gay Voices editor Michelangelo Signorile expressed hope on the “complicated issue about gender.”

“When you talk to young people about it,” he said, “they have a more of an understanding of gender as fluid, it’s not necessarily about your biology.”

“Well, yeah, I mean, among young people, you know, I've had this conversation,” Goldberg responded. “I've written about this and they’re some conflicts especially within feminism over these issues." 

Seeing an opportunity, Goldberg then turned to make the conversation about abortion.

“So a lot of the younger feminists, for example at the abortions funds,” she said, “no longer want to use the word ‘woman’ in relation to abortion because it excludes trans men.” Video Below.

Agreeing, Hayes attempted to clarify the terms “gender” and “sex” for his viewers.

“Right, because when we're talking about reproductive, the physical attributes that allow one to give birth, right? That is part of category that is sex, right?” he asked. “That's a physical category. That’s not gender.”

“Right,” Goldberg agreed before continuing the argument to take the “woman” out of “abortion”:

So there's been this kind of move to remove the word ‘women’ from a lot of language around abortion, abortion funds and there's a lot of second-wave feminists – and not only second-wave feminists – who say, you know, if you kind of take, if you take women out of this, and you kind of take an understanding of patriarchy out of this, which I don’t necessarily think you have to do, but I think, yeah, there's still a lot of sort of conceptual murk to clear away, but among younger people that I’ve talked to, it almost seems amazing to them that anybody would question the need to have gender neutral language. 

Wrapping up the conversation, New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden disagreed – that is, on how many agree with the “enlightened” Goldberg.

“Well, I’ve been around some people, other places not so enlightened,” he said. “I mean, and I think that we have to really be clear about that.”

In the past, for The New Yorker, Goldberg has indeed written about a feminist “move” to take the word “women” out of “abortion” – a move she proves by citing one organization.

“The members of the board of the New York Abortion Access Fund, an all-volunteer group that helps to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them, are mostly young women,” she wrote in 2014. “In May, they voted unanimously to stop using the word ‘women’ when talking about people who get pregnant, so as not to exclude trans men.”

But earlier this year – in a piece published by Goldberg’s The Nation – author Katha Pollitt argued against Goldberg’s sentiments.

“I don’t see how it denies ‘the existence and humanity of trans people’ to use language that describes the vast majority of those who seek to end a pregnancy,” she wrote. “Why can’t references to people who don’t identify as women simply be added to references to women?”

According to Pollitt, including trans men in abortion language threatens the pro-choice argument.

“Once you start talking about ‘people,’ not ‘women,’ you lose what abortion means historically, symbolically and socially,” she said. “It becomes hard to understand why it isn’t simply about the right to life of the ‘unborn.’” 

A feminism that refuses words like “women or “vagina,” Pollitt ranted, “is cutting the ground from under itself. “

“How do you even talk about women’s being underrepresented politically, or earning less than men, or being victims of rape and domestic violence? In an era where politics is all about identity, as a tool for organizing and claiming public space, are women about to lose theirs?” she asked. “Because after all we’re all just people now.”

Uh-oh. I think I’ll sit this one out.  

A feminist herself, Pollitt authored “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights,” which the media used as a launching-pad to spin abortion as a “moral,” “social good” last year.