Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was under fire this week after she pushed back on a tabloid that attempted to mock her for using trans-inclusive language, further emphasizing the need to use it.
Earlier this week, the New York native spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about Texas Governor Greg Abbott's response to his state’s new abortion ban and its impact on rape victims. Of the law, which bans abortions at about six weeks from the patient’s last menstrual period, Abbott told reporters on Tuesday that it doesn’t provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Though, he added, Texas will strive to "eliminate all rapists from the streets.”
In response to Abbott’s defense of the law and his remark about victims of rape or incest, Ocasio-Cortez told Cooper: “I find Gov. Abbott’s comments disgusting. I don’t know if he is familiar with a menstruating person’s body. In fact, I do know that he’s not familiar with a woman — with a female or menstruating person’s body, because if he did, he would know that you don’t have six weeks.”
Seizing on those remarks, U.K. outlet The Daily Mail reported on conservative critics making fun of Ocasio-Cortez’s words to Cooper.
“Ocasio-Cortez's use of the phrase 'menstruating person', which is intended to include people who do not identify as women but still have periods, drew mockery from her critics,” reads the Daily Mail’s coverage, which cites conservative radio host Erick Erickson and random Twitter users as detractors.
After the congresswoman spotted The Daily Mail’s reporting in a tweet that read, “AOC calls women ‘menstruating people’ while explaining the female body,” she shared a series of tweets pushing back on their critiques.
“Not just women! Trans men & non-binary people can also menstruate,” she tweeted on Wednesday with a screenshot of The Daily Mail‘s tweet. “Some women also *don’t* menstruate for many reasons, including surviving cancer that required a hysterectomy. GOP mad at this is protecting the patriarchal idea that women are most valuable as uterus holders.”
In another tweet, she wrote: “Trans, two-spirit, and non-binary people have always existed and will always exist. People can stay mad about that if they want, or they can grow up.”
Both Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks to Cooper and her subsequent tweets were heralded on social media by those in the trans community and allies.
“Having my cancer-induced hysterectomy at 35 ruined me for a good 2 years mentally. Thank you for mentioning those of us who lost our ‘womanhood’ beyond our control,” wrote one Twitter user.
“Yes! Trans women and some non-binary people have penile-shaped clitorises. Some trans men and some non-binary people have vagina-shaped penises. Let’s not be bigoted in how we perceive genitalia. Love to all,” wrote another.
Clue, a period tracker app, also remarked: “Thank you! Periods don't need to be gendered, it's a biological function. Saying 'people who menstruate' is literally more accurate and removes healthcare barriers for gender-nonconforming and trans people.”
Using trans-inclusive language is a crucial part of garnering equity for the trans community and furthering social progress. As the Scholars Strategy Network notes, “linguistic efforts have raised awareness of gendered linguistic bias in ways that have had direct social impact,” meaning that yes, language does impact how we think. An example of this is in using masculine pronouns instead of generic ones.
“When job ads are described in masculine language (as in, “The job applicant should submit his resume to…”), men feel especially encouraged to apply—and women tend to refrain,” explains the organization. “Biased language, which can surface as microaggressions, also correlates with diminished workplace satisfaction and can affect physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral health.”
Lera Boroditsky, a professor of Cognitive Science at UCSD writes in her book, What's Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science: Original Essays from a New Generation of Scientists, elaborates on this and stresses that “even what might be deemed frivolous aspects of language can have far-reaching subconscious effects on how we see the world.”