I see you: Striving for inclusive language

mrbabyYou may notice that I switch around the words I use. I’m not always referring to a “mother,” even when talking about breastfeeding. I try to not make the assumption that each woman has a “husband,” or even that each baby has heterosexual parents. Families are made all sorts of ways and, even as one doula friend put it, not everyone who has a baby becomes a “family” afterward; some birth parents give their babies up for adoption, but have no less of a need of help from those of us who work with birth.

Am I trying to be “politically correct”? No; I think political correctness implies a desire to pretend that differences do not exist. “Inclusive language” is the term for what I attempt to achieve. This project from the University of Maryland challenges:

The words you use may have an impact on others. Consider the power of your words as you choose what to say, and consider different ways that you can communicate the same message. If you are offended by someone’s language, engage them in a discussion. Ask them what they really meant by what they said. Together, sharing each other’s stories, we can help others see the power of their words.

When I write using inclusive language, I am trying to achieve two goals:

  1. I like my language to be specific. When there is no other word but “mother” that fits for what I am trying to describe, I am going to use that. If I am trying to reach a certain audience or convey a certain feeling, I might use different words or phrases. As a language geek, I like to “consider different ways [you] can communicate the same message.” Nontraditional households actually make up the majority of U.S. households today; according to the 2010 Census, less than half (48 percent) of households were husband-wife households. Ignoring that is simply inaccurate.
  2. Moreso, I want to demonstrate to anyone who feels that they do not fit into the “traditional” paradigm of wife/mother-husband/father-baby that I see you.

My friend Alice writes a lovely blog called “Lanugage of Inclusion.” In one post about inclusive language, she says:

Sometimes I feel quite conspicuous when other breastfeeding support colleagues are using the terms ‘moms’ or ‘mothers’ and I use ‘parent’ and ‘gestational parent’ or ‘breastfeeding parent’ (of course I use ‘mum’, ‘mother’, ‘dad’, ‘father’, when applicable – when the person or people I am referring to identify as such – I’m not suggesting that gendered terms are never appropriate). But, when feeling conspicuous in my use of terms, I ask myself, what is the worst thing that could happen to me? Someone might ask me why I am using it and might challenge the use of the word (which happens – some people are uncomfortable with these words) at worst, I might end up in an uncomfortable conversation. What is the best thing that could happen? I might have a reader who is gay, transgender, queer or intersex, and it might just be the first time since they became a parent that they are referred to with the correct terms or  that they are not misgendered. They may feel included.

Who of us has felt left out at one time or another? Probably all of us. I likely fail to use inclusive language every time it’s warranted, partly because the idea of mother-and-baby-and-daddy is so deeply etched into my subconscious and apparent in my own life, but I do hope that I use enough inclusive language that the occasional “nontraditional” person can read enough of what I write to feel accepted and welcome.

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