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07th Jul 2022

Don’t believe the transphobic panic – the word woman isn’t going anywhere

Sarah McKenna Barry

The latest moral panic mirrors previous transphobic discussions.

Earlier this week, Bette Midler took to Twitter to share an alarming message with the world.

Addressing her 2.1 million followers, the actress wrote that women everywhere are “being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name”.

“They don’t call us women anymore,” she wrote. “They call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators’ and even ‘people with vaginas’!”

Midler has since backtracked on her remarks. In a tweet, Midler said that she had “no intention” of being transphobic or exclusionary, and that she has “fought for marginalised people” for as long as she can remember.

Despite denying any transphobic intention in her comments, Midler’s initial remarks speak to a recent current in transphobic discussion that posits the idea that the term ‘woman’ is in danger, and that the transgender community are somehow responsible.

This rhetoric, which frames trans rights and equality as being threatening to the existence or safety of cisgender women, is formulaic in its transphobia. We saw a similar dynamic play out over the so-called bathroom bill debates in the US in the mid to late 2010s. During this time, right-wing voices and trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) claimed that allowing trans people use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender identity would lead to attacks on women and children. This has been routinely debunked as false. In fact, research from UCLA’s Williams Institute suggests that transgender people are far more likely to be victims of assault in public spaces as opposed to perpetrators.

Just as the bathroom bill debate was grounded in moral panic and misinformation, we’re seeing a similar pattern play out in the recent concerns over inclusive language. While it’s true that some settings – healthcare for instance – are including less gender specific terms, the word ‘woman’ isn’t actually going anywhere.

Take the NHS’ guide to Gender Inclusive Language in Perinatal Services as an example. It suggests expanding medical language rather than changing it entirely. This sees words like breast/chestfeeding appear in guidelines, or maternity/perinatal instead of just maternity.

Or, if you’d rather have an example that’s a bit closer to home, we can look at the reasons why Aldi changed their in-store signage from “feminine hygiene products” to just “period products”. This change wasn’t about erasing the experiences of cisgender women, it was about getting rid of language that suggests periods are inherently unhygienic or unsanitary.

What’s more, the recent moral panic would have you believe that the trans community are actively fighting to have the word woman removed in certain settings. This simply isn’t the case. As it stands, the global trans community are dealing with violence and discrimination in the real world. We have witnessed violent attacks on trans people by perpetrators who have been mobilised by harmful online discourse. Just last month, a young trans man was hospitalised following an alleged transphobic assault in Stephen’s Green. 

The truth is, trans people are, by in large, just fighting for their right to exist. They’re campaigning for access to healthcare. They’re calling for an end to transphobic violence and harassment. And, in recent weeks, you’ll find that leading trans voices were standing side by side with cis women following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In response to Midler’s comments, comedian Mae Martin accurately summed up the issue with this current moral panic surrounding the term woman.

They wrote: “For clarity for people experiencing that pedantic panic: nobody is denying that people have biological differences. But trans women are women, this is undeniable. They have a parallel struggle with cis women.

“They are at a disproportionately high risk of violence, rape, and murder at the hands of cis men. The struggle for trans women to live safely and with equal rights is very much in its infancy, to live authentically in the world as a trans person requires a huge amount of courage and bravery and comes with a level of constant threat.”

Martin also pointed to the ways in which the trans community have historically supported women’s bodily autonomy.

“We are stronger together,” they wrote. “We need each other. We need cis women as allies – we historically have been their allies as well and continue to be.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is available. The LGBT Helpline can be reached on 1890 929 539. More information is available at, or