Opinion | Bette Midler angers social media by daring to use the taboo word ‘women’

Is “woman” the most dangerous word in the English language?

Bette Midler is pondering this question. On Monday, the actress celebrated Independence Day with a tweet intended to be a feminist rallying cry.

She wrote: “WOMEN OF THE WORLD! We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name! They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators’, and even ‘people with vaginas’! Don’t let them erase you! Every human on earth owes you!”

The furious reaction on social media led to headlines in traditional media such as: “Bette Midler Sparks Huge Backlash As She Wades Into Debate Over Word ‘Women.’” “Bette Midler Accused of ‘Demonizing’ Trans People with Controversial Tweet.” And “By Claiming That Trans-Inclusive Language Erases Women, Bette Midler Alienates Her Fans.”

What a strange time to be alive. The Divine Miss M was once an ally to the LGBTQ community long before the word “ally” was in common usage. But now, after championing the word “woman,” she is the enemy. She is a person with a vagina apparently filled with ignorance and bigotry.

Midler, like many other high-profile “women” these days, has been branded a TERF, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist.

J.K. Rowling is well beyond TERF designation — she’s basically Voldemort.

OK. As a cisgender, straight male, person of colour, American-born Canadian in an interracial marriage with kids who are fond of both samosas and John Cougar Mellencamp, I don’t get this hot war between the trans community and old-school feminists. This is mutually assured destruction.

You know what’s really weird? There are never any cultural skirmishes around the word “man.” It’s just “woman” that is fraught with controversy, which itself is a symptom of entrenched sexism. If Midler had celebrated “men” in her Fourth of July tweet, it would be yawns all around.

A new conservative gotcha game is to ask someone, “What is a woman?” That’s the title of a new documentary and four-word question that is more common than, “How are you today?” What is a woman? Define a woman! Please tell me everything you know about women!

Women have become a litmus test like Bigfoot: do you believe they exist?

At her confirmation hearing, newly minted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked this by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn: “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?”

The judge demurred and said, “I’m not a biologist.”

To those on the right, her non-answer was evasive and bonkers. But you know what? It’s a tricky question. What is a woman? Personally, if I were asked, I would answer with, “Well, a woman is a superior life form to me and a more evolved human who is super-organized, deeply empathetic and often saddled with a paralyzing fear of spiders. I believe deep in my heart women should run this crazy world. Yeah, there’d be way more mean gossip at the UN — “I heard North Korea is ready to cheat on China” — but there’d also be way less death and destruction. There would be no barbaric war in Ukraine if Vladimir Putin was a woman.

That murderous psycho is the poster child for toxic masculinity.

Imagine how much safer the world would be if Putin had a vagina.

And that is why I truly don’t understand the hot war between feminists and the trans community. Hey! Dummies! You’re kind of on the same side here. You shouldn’t be feuding. How is the word “woman” a threat to inclusivity? I married a woman. My teen daughters are morphing into women. My best friend is a woman. Most of my bosses over years were women.

Bette Midler is right to defend “women.” Instead of attacking her, maybe we should wonder why “man” is not “problematic.” When celebrities unwisely wander into the cultural abyss of gender identity, they only seem to get in trouble when playing fast and loose with the word “woman.”

Filmmakers and politicians aren’t frantically asking, “What is a man?”

My motto, as I’ve said many times before, is Live and Let Live. Everyone deserves dignity and safety and the chance to march toward their destiny without the evil roadblocks of ignorance and bigotry. I will gladly use whatever pronouns you prefer. I genuinely want you to be happy.

If you’re a good person, you are welcome to come over for dinner whenever you want. I will cook for you. I will try to make you laugh. I don’t care about your sexuality, your gender identity, your race, your favourite baseball team. Well, unless it’s the New York Yankees, in which case you are dead to me.

Everything in this world boils down to intent. Was Bette Midler intending to cause harm to the trans community by standing up for so-called women? No. She was issuing a clarion call on behalf of American women who are watching in real time as their rights are rolled back. It’s 2022 and an American woman has fewer rights than an AK-15. A woman’s body is not her own under many new laws of the land. This is clinically insane. If “men” were the ones to get pregnant, there’d be an abortion clinic in the back of every Starbucks. Clarence Thomas would have probably had 50 procedures by now.

However inelegantly, this is the point Bette Midler was trying to make.

Women are under siege.

And not being able to identify as a woman is part of the problem.


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