Cartoon: We’re Not Allowed To Say The Word “Woman” Anymore!


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.

PANEL 1

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.

PANEL 2

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”…

PANEL 3

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…

PANEL 4

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?!?


This cartoon on Patreon

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer issues, Transsexual and Transgender related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

21 Responses to Cartoon: We’re Not Allowed To Say The Word “Woman” Anymore!

  1. 1
    bcb says:

    Excellent comic!
    ‘Course if you ever show this comic to a transphobe, they’ll either move the goalposts or deny every saying that the word “woman” was banned.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks, and true.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    We’re certainly still allowed to use the word “woman”. At least, in common discourse. But to use the term “pregnant people” as if anyone other than a woman can be pregnant is obviously absurd.

  4. 4
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    But to use the term “pregnant people” as if anyone other than a woman can be pregnant is obviously absurd.

    If you don’t believe that trans men exist this is true and also bigoted.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    I believe that there are women who have gender dysphoria and believe they are men. But that does not actually make them men.

  6. 6
    Celeste says:

    There’s this tendency on the right that I’ve noticed recently to embrace being aggressively shitty to other people … for essentially no reason? I find it mystifying.

    I think about Ben Shapiro & Jordan Peterson taking time out of their busy schedules to publicly insult a woman’s apperance. Jordan “quit Twitter” shortly thereafter because of how mean everyone was being to him about it.

    And the thing is, there’s no great conservative principle at work here, other than “being mean and judgmental about someone else’s body.” If they hadn’t commented on her at all, it wouldn’t have been a ‘betrayal of their most deeply held principles,’ or something. Nobody would have noticed or cared.

    Or, like, homophobia. Sure, if someone’s real religious, we understand that they probably don’t ‘approve’ of gay stuff … but there’s a difference between that and making a point of screaming about how “God hates f**s.” One is just, “believing some stuff that I disagree with,” and the other is, “publicly being a real piece of shit.”

    I guess my attitude is, common courtesy costs nothing. That applies to me too. It would be awful of me to comment in every conversation I have with a religious person, “your god is fake, and you’re pretty stupid for believing in it.” Maybe I believe it. Doesn’t mean I have to say it, especially if it’s a mean thing to say and I’m saying it publicly. Some of us have learned to not say every hurtful thing that comes into our heads about other people.

    This is like that. Someone’s religion, their gender, their appearance, their sexuality … well, that’s their business, not yours. It’s not that you ‘aren’t allowed’ to disagree (Lord, I know how conservatives love pretending they’re ‘not allowed’ to do shitty things, because it’s way easier to defend, “I have the right to do this shitty thing,” than it is to defend the shitty thing itself.), it’s that when you do this thing that nobody is disallowing you from doing, the people around you will shape their opinions of you accordingly.

    Which you’ll then complain is ‘cancel culture.” 🙄

    Anyway, Ron, I was hoping you could share why you felt like posting something transphobic to the internet today, and what positive result you hoped for.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Ron, this is a cartoon about the claim that people aren’t allowed to use the word “woman” anymore – which you agree, is a false claim.

    It’s not about questioning if trans men are men. That’s not a discussion we’re open to having on “Alas” – except maybe on The Mint Garden. As you well know, because YOU’VE BEEN TOLD THIS BEFORE.

    On “Alas,” we’re not open to “trans men are really women,” just like we’re not open to “the Jews are the secret puppetmasters controlling the country.” Trans men are men; Jews are not the secret masters; and if you want to say otherwise, go elsewhere to say it.

    I believe you’ve been told this more than once. I will not warn you again; next time you’ll be banned.

    If you find this too confusing to understand, or are worried you might accidently break this rule, or whatever, then I suggest you just don’t discuss trans related issues on “Alas” anymore, period.

  8. 8
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    Before I address that steaming turd that RonF has so proudly left for all of us to admire, it’s worth asking how many times Ron has been told that this hateful bigotry has a place here made specifically for him and not to drop these shitty comments all over the place. I’m positive that it’s been more than a dozen times and I feel it’s probable that it’s been under a gross of times. I will admit to believing that 3 times is at least 1 time too many. Yet, Ron – in a disgraceful display of lack of respect for people with whom he has conversed for over a decade – keeps doing exactly what he was asked not to do. It shows just how important Ron feels his hateful, bigoted, scientifically incorrect, actually damaging opinions are and just how important we, the Alas community are to him. Or, you know, it could be he’s just an asshole looking hurt people. I’ve seen others go that way.

    As to the steaming turd of bigotry Ron so gracefully dropped from his pie-hole after it’s long, hateful journey from the bowels of his transphobia…

    Wow. You’re just going to deny the agency and existence of an entire subset of humanity, are you? Like you have any idea of the science or, way more importantly, the fucking lived reality of millions of people. All of those millions who show more humanity in their little fingers than you do in over a decade of horrid politics supported by nothing more than your fears and your bigotry. You are truly the worst of us and you insist on showing that to us again and again and again. Whether it’s your disgraceful support of a fascist, criminal politician and the increasingly fascist political party that belched him up or your denials of racism, antisemitism and other prejudices that we’ve had to witness, you are just a garbage human being. The most interesting thing about you is how six years steeped in Trumpism has moved the line for what you think is acceptable to say out loud and, honestly, that’s not interesting at all.

    What you said wasn’t in any way civil given that you know who you’re talking to, you nasty piece of work. You know who moderates here, who they are, and how what you wrote is likely to affect them. And you did it anyway, even though you were asked nicely, countless times, to fucking cut it out.

    Fuck you. There’s no excusing what you’ve done here, again. If you had any modicum of decency in you, that shit wouldn’t have been written. But you don’t have any decency, anymore, if you ever did. What little you had has been eroded by years of living and believing the cesspool of hate produced by the far right propaganda organs. We were all able to see that thin veneer of civility diminishing over time. Your drive-by bomb throwing was a dead giveaway for what you’d become.

    You should be ashamed of yourself, but you’re too far gone for that. I’m disgusted by you – even more than I’ve grown to be over the last handful of years. I’m done with you and your hate and your hurt and your ugliness. As the kids used to say, choke on a bag of dicks, asshole.

    I can’t remember the last time I called for a hateful, bigoted commenter to be banned but I’m doing it now. If I see another RonF comment here, it will be the last time I visit.

  9. 9
    Corso says:

    Maybe to refocus the discussion…

    The “You can’t say women anymore” line reminds me of the “Don’t say gay” bill in Florida. You can say “woman”. You can also say “gay” in Florida. You could scream either from a downtown rooftop with absolutely no fear of arrest unless it was unlawful for you to be on the rooftop.

    I don’t think that anyone saying “You can’t say woman anymore” actually believes it literally…. I think that’s fairly obvious. Particularly since they’re saying it to make the point. Without making a judgement on the worthiness of either issue, these are obviously deliberate hyperboles to highlight an issue: In the case of “gay”, a commentary on banning teachers from talking about certain sexual subjects to children under the age of 9. In the case of women, a commentary on the euphemisation of “woman”.

  10. 10
    Celeste says:

    That’s an excellent point, Corso.

    The hypocrites on the right say things like “we’re not allowed to say the word ‘woman’ any more” while nobody is actually censoring them, just using language in a different way than they’d prefer.

    Meanwhile, of course, they approve of actual government censorship in education & libraries – actual cases where speech is actually restricted by force of law.

    Yet another reason to take right-wing claims of being ‘pro-free-speech’ skeptically. Remember – people disapproving of or disagreeing with what you say isn’t censorship. Censorship is when the government takes books out of libraries or tries to stop people from discussing certain idea.

    The conservative notion that the first is vile and must be attacked while the second is hunky dory proves that there are not important principles at work for them, just an effort to silence their political opponents.

  11. 11
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Corso @9 –

    In the case of women, a commentary on the euphemisation of “woman”.

    But the problem isn’t that the term “woman” is being euphemised; when people say “pregnant people” they’re not using “people” as a euphamism for women, they’re making the point (or at least not denying) that not just women can be pregnant.

    To show what I mean – if a man tells me that they’re married, and I ask them “what is your spouse called?” rather than “what is your wife called?” I’m not using a euphamism, I’m recognizing the social and legal reality in 2022 that a married man might not have a wife but rather a husband. If someone is opposed to same sex marriage, they may insist that I use the term “wife” in this situation rather than “spouse”, but that’s not because they’re worried about word choice, it’s because they want to deny the existance of men with husbands.

    Similarly, the people who say “we cannot say ‘woman'”, are, indeed, using hyperbole to make a point. But the point isn’t that “woman” has been replaced by a euphamism. Their point is the insistance that all people who are pregnant are women, and that they refuse to accept any other reality.

  12. 12
    Corso says:

    Eytan…. There’s two issues here.

    The first I feel on very solid ground saying here: Progressives have the propensity to sound like the aliens from Nathan Pyle cartoons. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, they take commonly used and understood terms and sterilize them into mockable, if technically accurate descriptions.

    The second, and I’m trying to be respectful and careful about how I put this… And I realize this is going to be unpleasant for some people and I apologize for that… But while most of the commentariat here accept that trans men are men, that’s not a majority opinion. Depending on how the question is asked and which survey you look at, that might not even be a majority opinion among Democrats. You can take that as a condemnation of those people, I’m not making that point. My point is that people that hold the opposing position would logically see a label like “Pregnant Person” as a euphemism for woman.

    Celeste is correct: The censorship of teachers in Florida is, by far, a more important issue. But I feel like in approaching these discussions without attempting to understand the mindset of the people you’re talking about, you sometimes project absurdities onto them that they don’t hold.

  13. 13
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Corso – I haven’t nothing to say about your first issue, because I don’t even really disagree.

    But as for your second point, I think that you are somewhat missing my point. I do understand the mindset of the people I am talking about. But understanding it is not the same as committing to accepting their terminology, or refusing to challenge it. You didn’t say that they object to what they view as a euphamism for woman. You said that they object to a euphamism for woman. So, whether or not you actually agree with their beliefs, or whether you were just careless in your use of their language (and I’m not going to ask you which it is, since if you agree with them it would be against the rules of this blog for you to answer), your post implicitly accepted it. And, in this space, I think that’s something worth pointing out.

    And finally, I wasn’t projecting absurdities onto them. I was saying exactly the same thing you did – the people who complain are people that don’t accept that trans men are men. Let’s not disguise that fact by pretending that their complaint is just about the use of language. Their complaint is about the ideology behind the use of the language, just like my complaint about their language is.

  14. 14
    Corso says:

    So, whether or not you actually agree with their beliefs, or whether you were just careless in your use of their language (and I’m not going to ask you which it is, since if you agree with them it would be against the rules of this blog for you to answer)

    Poor wording on my part. My position is a little more nuanced than a complete acceptance or rejection of the premise, but I would expect that I’m probably closer to the majority here than not.

    But understanding it is not the same as committing to accepting their terminology, or refusing to challenge it.

    I think we agree in spirit, but we’re talking past each other a little. You’re right, but I don’t think that their premise is being interacted with, refuted, criticized, or even disagreed with gently by pointing out that you can in fact say “woman”.

    I think that in order to interact with that premise, you have to acknowledge it exists, and in order to acknowledge it’s existence, you have to understand that it exists.

    Now you might get that. But I’m not sure, for instance, that bcb@1 did, and I wonder how that translates to the broader audience: Are they laughing at the absurdity of someone saying that they can’t say “woman”, when they obviously can say “woman”, or have they made the connection to the next level problem?

  15. 15
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I think we agree in spirit, but we’re talking past each other a little. You’re right, but I don’t think that their premise is being interacted with, refuted, criticized, or even disagreed with gently by pointing out that you can in fact say “woman”.

    I assume you’re talking about the cartoon here – and you’re absolutely right, I don’t think the cartoon is interacting, refuting, criticizing, or disagreeing gently with the underlying premise. It’s a silly joke poking fun at certain people for making hyperbolic claims. I can’t speak for Barry’s intentions, but I doubt this cartoon was meant to be any more than that.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    I can’t speak for Barry’s intentions, but I doubt this cartoon was meant to be any more than that.

    Barry posts gif of tall person with smiling dog head pointing at the camera while a flashing caption at the bottom says “YOU ARE CORRECT SIR” in a friendly and colorful font.

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    After discussion between me, Grace and Jacqueline, Grace and I decided that Ron is banned.

    Ron has been warned again and again, and there’s no reason to think another warning will have any effect.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never see Ron’s comments here again. But from now on, if Ron chooses to continue participating, all of Ron’s comments will require individual approval by a moderator before they appear (if they do at all). Nothing that comes within a mile of saying “trans men aren’t men” (etc) will be approved. For more info about how “Alas” bans work, please read our comments policy.

  18. 18
    Ampersand says:

    Sebastian, I literally just said “Nothing that comes within a mile of saying “trans men aren’t men” (etc) will be approved.”

    I know, I know: You can play rules-lawyer and claim that you didn’t technically say it. But you implied it, and you’re far too smart to not know that. And doing that immediately after I’d just said not to do it shows (at best) indifference to the norms of this blog.

    This is your warning; don’t play footsie with saying trans men are women “because it speaks to sex,” or anything like that, on this blog again. (You have a free speech right to say whatever you want, of course, but you don’t have the right to say it on our blog.)

    Also, you’re banned from posting any further on this thread.

  19. 19
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Not responding directly to Sebastian, because he cannot post here anymore, but just in general – trying to make this an argument about semantics, is – willfully or not- entirely missing the point. It’s not difficult to make any point you want that way. For example, according to the OED (woman, sense 12), in the 18th and 19th centuries (long before our current understanding of gender) the term “woman” could refer to the side of the coin opposite the “head” – the one we now call the “tail”. So when tossing a coin you could ask “head or woman?”. Therefore, saying “a pregnant woman” is literally nonsensical, since coins cannot be pregnant. QED.

  20. 20
    Grace Annam says:

    I have moved Sebastian’s comment to the Mintgarden, at https://amptoons.com/blog/?page_id=20328&cpage=4#comment-403749. Previously, it appeared just before Amp’s comment at #18, starting “Sebastian, I literally just said…

    Grace

  21. 21
    JaneDoh says:

    Bigots are going to bigot (unfortunately). Semantic games and pretending that social disapproval for behaving like an asshat is the same thing as censorship is pretty par for the course. When I lived in DC, the contortions people would go through to claim that the old name of the Washington football team wasn’t racist were astounding to me, but similar in spirit to the theme of this cartoon.

    PS. One of the reasons I actually participate here is the (usually) respectful atmosphere created by the moderators, so thank you!

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