In a paper drawing attention to a panel discussion on the experience of pregnancies for ethnic minorities, the Harvard University School of Medicine described women as “pregnant and birthing people”. “Globally, ethnic minority pregnant and birthing people suffer worse outcomes and experiences during and after pregnancy and childbirth. These inequities have been further highlighted by COVID19,” the Harvard faculty wrote on Twitter. Such an unusual description of women has earned wide criticism on Twitter. “Reducing us to ‘birthing people’ is vile but also shows, glaringly, why women are underserved in medicine. Your contempt for us couldn’t be more apparent. We are women, and we will not be swept aside,” wrote one Twitter user in response. Another comment pointed out that the term “woman” is treated as an insult that should not be uttered. Some users pointed out that, indirectly, reducing the purpose of women to giving birth is highly offensive, especially given the history of Black women who were systematically forced into pregnancy in the United States during slavery.
Ironically, it was the Black minority that was at the center of the debate organized by the Harvard University School of Medicine. The university explained that by choosing the term “birthing person”, it wanted to “include those who identify as non-binary or transgender because not all who give birth identify as ‘women’ or ‘girls’.” The university explained that it did not intend to dehumanize women in any way and that it understood the criticism of such terminology but did not issue an apology. Similar progressive terminology is being used at Boise State University in Idaho where the Menstrual Equity Club, which was formed recently, distinguishes genders by using the terms “menstruating” and “non-menstruating”. The student organization chose a different method for distinguishing genders, with the club stating on its website that it “accepts all members, both menstruating and non-menstruating.” Club leader Rylie Wieseler added that the club does not use the term women to be more inclusive. “A lot of menstruating people don’t identify as women,” she said.