A cartoon by me and Becky Hawkins.
“But Mother” cried the Abbot. “If I’m not permitted to support these cartoons on Patreon, then there is no purpose to my life, and if it gets out there’s no purpose to my life, then the peasants will surely revolt and come for me with the rakes and torches, and–” But then the Abbot heard the crash of the front gates being smashed open.
In The Atlantic, Helen Lewis writes about “a new taboo on the American left: a terrible aversion to using the word women.” In the Washington Post, Megan McArdle asks “Can the women’s movement be as effective without the word ‘women’?” In the Toronto Star, Rosie DiManno asks “Why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?,” a question Margaret Atwood echoed on Twitter. The Times of London claims that “Midwives have been told to say ‘chestfeeding’ instead of ‘breastfeeding.'” Pamela Paul, in the New York Times, says “Planned Parenthood, once a stalwart defender of women’s rights, omits the word “women” from its home page.”
Gosh, that sounds troubling. Fortunately, none of it is true.
The word woman isn’t “taboo”; It’s trivially easy to find current examples of major pro-choice figures and organizations using the word “woman.”
Pamela Paul didn’t mention that Planned Parenthood’s front page is written entirely in the second person (i.e., “we believe your body is your own”), so wouldn’t be expected to use the word “women.” (PP’s been using “you” language on their front page for at least a decade.)
A google search shows that, as of this writing, the word “women” is used over 18,000 times on Planned Parenthood’s site. So although Pamela Paul didn’t technically lie, she certainly was misleading.
That hospital in England encourages staff to use the word “chestfeeding” in addition to – not “instead of” – “breastfeeding.”
The difference between “in addition to” and “instead of” is at the heart of all these deceptions. The truth – that trans-inclusive language like “pregnant people” is now available to use, but people can and do use whichever they please – isn’t catastrophizing enough for the anti-trans culture warriors. So they lie and suggest that “women” is being banned, when no such thing is happening.
Commenting on “why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?,” Sherronda Brown tweeted:
…This has the exact same energy as men who say shit like, “i guess it’s not okay to speak to women anymore” or “i will no longer work with/hire women” when they are told to stop sexually harassing women.
And journalist Katelyn Burns writes:
Anti-trans folks insist that using a catch-all gender-neutral phrase like birthing people instead of mothers erases women. But women are people too. This is about allowing people to define themselves within the complex world of sex, gender, and reproduction, rather than following a strict doctrine of biology as destiny.
When I wrote this strip, I had the dialog reversed in panel 1 – so that the same woman was using the word “women” in the first three panels. Or that’s how it was in my mind, anyway, but I didn’t make that clear in the script. Becky writes:
Barry’s and my gChats for the last 10 days alternate between questions about the political cartoon and gushing about the new A League of Their Own, but I was able to track down the process for this cartoon.
When Barry shared the file with me, it just had the dialogue and stage directions for “person at desk with papers they’ve been working on,” and “person standing next to desk.” Because the person standing was late (“There you are!”), and the person at a desk asked which stories “you guys” were putting out next week, I assumed this was a meeting in a newsroom, and various reporters were chiming in. I pictured a long table with a whiteboard or a powerpoint projected on a screen. (I’m glad I didn’t try to squeeze “Julie,” “Alice,” and a whiteboard into the panels before I checked with Barry!)
Becky: Are you picturing this as a news editor’s office? A meeting room?
Barry: I was picturing a coffee shop or a bar or maybe a cocktail party. But there’s a lot of flexibility there, obviously.
Becky [20 minutes later]: I think I may have ignored stage directions and switched around who’s talking in some of these, but with that caveat, a very rough sketch is up
I like the office kitchenette because it establishes the speakers as coworkers in an informal setting.
The script didn’t specify who said what, so I did some guessing instead of asking Barry. (Sorry, Barry.) It made sense to me that one person asked “Which stories are you putting out?” one person listed all the stories, and the first person got angry and said the final line. This posed a classic cartoonist problem: Person 1 needs to be on the left in Panel 2 in order to “speak” first, but they need to be on the right in Panel 4 in order to speak last. Working backwards, if Person 1 is just walking into the kitchenette, she has a plausible reason to move around a bit. This is apparently not at all what Barry had in mind. But I think it works, and I think the cartoon is stronger if both speakers use the word “women” with no repercussions before Panel 4.
I agree with Becky: the way it turned out is better than what I originally had in mind.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same two women chatting in what appears to be a breakroom/kitchenette at a workplace; there’s a fridge, and a coffee pot, a little round table with a couple of cheap plastic chairs, and an OSHA poster.
The first woman, who I’ll call DRESS, has below-the-shoulder blonde hair tied back loosely. She’s wearing a green dress with boots and is seated at the table, eating a sandwich. The second woman, who I’ll call JACKET (get it? “Dress Jacket”? This is high quality entertainment here!) has white hair, which is in a cool-looking style that’s short on the backs and sides and spikey in front. She’s wearing a green shirt, matching gray jacket and pants, and black clogs.
DRESS is seated and eating her sandwich as JACKET walks into the break room, carrying a red coffee mug. Both women are smiling and look friendly.
DRESS: There you are!
JACKET: Sorry, had to go to the women’s room.
Jacket has walked to the counter and is pouring herself a cup of coffee. Dress turns to face Jacket as she speaks.
JACKET: So what new stories are you guys putting out this week?
DRESS: Well, there’s my piece on “ten up-and-coming young women in publishing”…
Dress continues to talk as Jacket moves to take a seat at the table.
DRESS: Julie’s got an essay on ways backsliding LGBTQ rights are a threat to women’s rights… There’s a piece on Black women leaders petitioning the President…
Jacket suddenly explodes in over-the-top anger, waving her arms high, tossing her coffee mug into the air, flipping the table. Dress flinches back, surprised.
DRESS: And there’s Alice’s story about prosecutors targeting pregnant people – YIPES!
JACKET (yelling): “Pregnant people”? So we’re not even allowed to say “women” anymore?!?