Our Letter to BC Centre for Disease Control
Please use any part of this letter for your own use.
November 2, 2020
Re: BCCDC COVID-19 Language Guide
“New language guide helps to destigmatize COVID-19”
We of Women’s Space Vancouver are concerned about the new language guide, which purports to address issues related to the pandemic, but in fact violates the rights of women and children, repudiates decades worth of work in reducing shame and ignorance about female bodies, and threatens the safety of children. Very little of it addresses issues related to the pandemic. This ill conceived guide must be revoked.
The Guide was created without the knowledge of or input from the public. Rather, a small group of people with what appears to be gender identity bias were invited to participate in the development of the guide. It presupposes science, medicine, law, and public opinion agree that sex is not binary. The BCCDC does not have the right to make such a call. This kind of politic does not belong in medicine or our healthcare system.
The Guide uses political language that perpetuates stereotypes and misinformation. The Guide purports to serves as a tool for “writing about COVID-19 and its effect on people”. Rather, it asks the reader to replace specific and objective medical and scientific language with language it says is politically correct. This has serious consequences.
The Guide conflates sex and gender. Sex is a material biological reality. Sex is not “assigned at birth”, as the guide would have us think. It is observed and confirmed. It is because of that material reality that women face discrimination, violence, and oppression. Girls grow up in that oppression and endure a society that forces gender role stereotypes on them daily, including grooming them for sexual objectification by and for men. Sex is not something we choose or anyone chooses for us. Sex has caused women and girls to be treated differently in healthcare, and not always in a positive way. Women have asserted for decades our right to access objective information and appropriate treatment, and to make informed health and medical choices. We’ve welcomed studies and research that will collect data to better analyze the unique needs of women. Gender, on the other hand, has no medical or biological definition. It is purely a set of sexist stereotypes designed to confine the sexes to traits that are considered female or male. The Guide says gender is something you think, feel, and express. Thoughts and feelings can change minute by minute and day by day. Thus, so can “gender”. This is scientifically untenable for a healthcare system – gender can’t be studied and researched when it has no definition beyond the thoughts and feelings of and individual on any given day. Gender stereotypes are harmful to women. To children. And to men.
The Guide misinforms, and dismisses women’s material bodies and functions. It skews material reality and alienates the vast majority of people from what they understand of science and medicine. Women have fought for many decades asserting our bodies be spoken about with correct, respectful language in medicine, law, and in the public realm. We’ve demanded our children be taught objectively, positively, about their bodies and respect for their right to physical boundaries. Misinformation and politically skewed language is the antithesis to this goal. Girls need to be able to speak of vulva and vagina in order to understand their reproductive systems, sexuality, appreciate their bodies, and when needed, speak of being sexually abused. “External genitals” and “internal genitals” has no useful meaning. Both men and women have external genitalia. Telling your doctor you have a concern with your “external genitals” will not help a physician provide an assessment. A physician speaking to a woman of her “external genitals” will not help that women understand the medical assessment being made.
Further, only women – not people and not men - have female reproductive systems, are childbearing, get pregnant, and nurse children with their breasts, not their chest. Women get pregnant through intercourse with men, not “insertive sex”. Most, if not all, health and medical issues are influenced by our sex. That’s why women have asserted our right to have science and medicine recognize and research our unique needs and treatment, accurately and objectively. This requires accurate statistics be gathered upon which to analyse those needs. This Guide makes a mockery of that critical work by encouraging people to ignore objective medical terms and physical processes and replace them with vague ‘politically correct’ language.
“Gender violence” hides the fact that what we are talking about is violence against women. When gender violence is used to replace violence against women, an increasing and disturbing epidemic in the pandemic, it’s not just offensive, it’s harmful. Violence against women, domestic violence, is perpetrated by men against women because we are women. Women need transition services and housing. Women and children need supportive services to flee violence and address the harms. “Gender violence” obfuscates reality and hides the harms to women. It’s shocking that a guide that proports to want to address the pandemic encourages the realities of the pandemic be masked.
Language is a powerful tool. It can be used to inform or manipulate. As Dr. Réka Gustafson, vice president of public health and wellness for Provincial Health Services Authority and deputy provincial health officer said, “We don’t want how we say things to perpetuate harms and marginalize individuals…”. The Guide says, “When we write or speak, the words we choose have the power to respectfully and accurately represent people...Words also have the power to perpetuate ignorance and bias.” This Guide will do just that. It will perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination and remove medically objective language.
What has happened in the UK is a cautionary tale. Their healthcare system is under serious scrutiny for ignoring medical ethics and letting political pressure influence the treatment of children, creating potential life long damage for many. They also realized that women’s sex based rights were in jeopardy because the distinct needs and services for women were being dismissed.
Our women-only organization works to defend women’s sex-based rights. We act to ensure women’s voices are heard, our unique life experiences are understood and respected, and that actions are taken to address the harms that arise as a result of the oppression created by patriarchy and misogyny. We oppose stereotypes and ideology that attempt to confine and define women into “gender” roles, silence us, or make us invisible through manipulated language.
BCCDC – Language Guide Project Leader, Harlan Pruden, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Provincial Health Services Authority – CEO, Benoit Morin c/o Manager, Communications Ben.Hadaway@phsa.ca
PHSA Patient Quality Review Board - firstname.lastname@example.org Doctors of BC – Dr Kathleen Ross,President email@example.com, Dr Jeff Dresselhuis ChairOfBoardOfDirectors@doctorsofbc.ca
College of Physicians & Surgeons – President, Bruce C. Bell, by standard mail Provincial Minister of Health – Adrian Dix HLTH.Minister@gov.bc.ca
Provincial Health Officer - Dr Bonnie Henry, by standard mail
BC Association of Community Health Centres – Chair, Piotr Majkowski firstname.lastname@example.org
BC Pediatric Society – President, Dr. Stephen Noseworthy email@example.com