Changing gender language on NHS websites is not wiping out women

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Now NHS websites – such as NHS Inform – on ovarian, womb and cervical cancer no longer specifically refer to women – but are instead described as ‘cancers affecting the female reproductive system’ (Image: Getty Images).

I am very proud to be a woman. Aside from feeling like a second-class citizen most of the time, I would say that I love being a woman.

I’m proud of my body – both its strengths and its weaknesses. His stretch marks, quirks and his odd, inexplicable oddities; like the hair on my left shoulder or the way my feet look quite edgy in open sandals. However.

What I don’t love about being a woman (aside from the ingrained social inequality, the gender pay gap, and all the bulls**t that I need *at least* a small glass of wine to get started) is its self-imposed, rigid, and frankly ridiculous gender rules.

To me, though, I’m not a woman just because I was born with a vagina, breasts, and an often disturbingly pear-shaped body. These traits don’t make me a woman on my terms – only by the unwritten “rules” of generations that were assigned to me even before I was born.

Let me get this straight: you don’t need a vagina to be “a woman,” nor do you need a penis to be “a man.” Sexual organs are not the same as pronouns.

I’m lucky that I felt like my body, my shell, was at home. I’ve never had the heartache of not really feeling myself, not even for a second.

I’ll never understand the pain of someone seeing me for something I know I’m not; having to live by unwritten gender laws that I didn’t agree to and have no say in.

Although I am a woman and identify as a woman, I welcome the news that the NHS has recently started reducing the use of the term ‘woman’ in its UK online health guidance.

Now NHS websites – like NHS Inform – are describing ovarian, uterine and cervical cancer as “cancers affecting the female reproductive system”. These websites have started using gender-neutral language alongside the term “woman”.

Thankfully, these guidelines have been rewritten with gender-neutral language for those who frequently have body parts associated with female but do not identify as women.

Let’s say if you searched the NHS help pages for ‘ovarian cancer’ you would have read ‘one of the most common cancers in women’.

Instead, it now says: “Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer. This includes women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries.”

Of course, this has been criticized and despised by some, who believe it is risky to cause “harm” to patients.

It is indicative of the knee-jerk reaction we saw last year when the NHS Trust at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals announced that it would finally be using gender-neutral terms in its maternity services, using expressions like ‘breast feeding’, ‘human milk’ and ‘ Birth”. Parents’.

What is really damaging is the fact that one in seven LGBTQ+ people avoid seeking medical care that could be life-saving for fear of discrimination

The backlash to this policy change was nonetheless called “PC nonsense” by Piers Morgan, adding that he thought it was “exclusive and alienating people”.

On this recent occasion, a senior government source appeared to say that gender-neutral terms were “harmful and could prevent people from finding the help they need” and that NHS guidelines should “use clear and commonly understood terms”.

Unfortunately, our own health secretary, Sajid Javid, said in response “biological sex matters” – adding that he doesn’t think “it’s right” and that we should use “common sense”.

But what is there not to understand, please tell? It’s crystal clear, for sure. Damagingly, one in seven LGBTQ+ people avoid seeking potentially life-saving healthcare for fear of discrimination from staff.

There are still parts of the NHS health pages that relate to women but you’ll have to click through to read the subsections – for example the ’causes’ section for ovarian, uterine and cervical cancer states that ‘ Women, trans men, non-binary people, and intersex people with these reproductive organs are at risk.

What a chore that must be having to click the mouse again for an extra millisecond to desperately see the word “woman” instead of waking up in the wrong body for decades.

It doesn’t make women in healthcare “less prominent” — as some outlets and so-called “experts” have claimed — but it expands to include others in this country’s national health service.

That doesn’t mean women are going to be wiped out, quite the opposite, it means those with female reproductive organs who don’t identify as women are finally included in meaningful conversations.

Everyone has a basic human right to access health care in a welcoming, inclusive way, so I’m struggling to understand what the big deal is.

The NHS responded, saying they “only need to mention gender, gender or sexuality where relevant, for example to refer people and help them get the health information and access treatment they need”. And I agree.

If senior officials in our government still believe that sex and gender matter, then I missed the memo about going back to the Middle Ages. But then again, we might as well be living in caves if we can’t afford the utility bills any time soon.

Gender-neutral language doesn’t make you any less who you are. It doesn’t take away my ‘femininity’, it helps me feel part of a more inclusive society.

I understand the concerns of those who don’t speak English as a first language, as I can imagine the health jargon can be difficult to digest at times – but this isn’t about nuance.

It’s about us being guilty of giving gender language a rubric in the VIP area and weaving it so tightly into everyday life for far too long that it mostly makes sense now.

Perhaps we would start teaching gender-neutral language in our schools instead of the exclusive terms for gender – perhaps then it would be less confusing, even for those unwilling to self-educate.

Nor does it make me any less feminist to advise against using the word “woman”.

In fact, it makes me more of a feminism To achieve equality for all people, regardless of sex, gender or sexuality. exclusion not.

Changing our language and softening the rigidities of sex and gender is key. Rewriting gender terms is a small step in teaching our younger generations the importance of equality and humanity.

It’s an NHS milestone that makes me give a heartfelt sigh of relief. It really gives me hope that those who don’t feel at home every day will feel less anxious, less ridiculed and less humiliated.

It’s important to do away with these ridiculous, untutored, and unwritten “rules” and foster a society that welcomes everyone to the party with open arms, without shame or fear.

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Justin Scacco

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