The last few weeks have seen numerous celebrities speak out about women’s rights (or lack thereof in the United States). The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, saw several A-listers share their own stories of abortion in an attempt to unite us together against this awful misstep.
Among them was Bette Midler, an iconic American actress best known for her roles in Hocus Pocus, Beaches, First Wives Club and The Stepford Wives. Her tweet however, which was intended as a political message, was not well-received by everyone.
On July 4, 2022, Midler tweeted: “Women of the world! We are being stripped 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!”
Her comments were soon interpreted as being anti-trans, sparking controversy online. Some rushed to the actress’ defence, while others found them to be discriminatory towards the trans community.
In the comments section, fans of Midler shared their disappointment at her choice of wording.
“So does that mean that every person who is assigned female at birth but can’t get pregnant/give birth is no longer a woman,” one user asked?
“‘Birthing people’ is an inclusive term, to include our trans brothers and sisters. I know you well enough to know that you choose to be inclusive'”, said another.
“This is a bad take, Bette!!! Not all women have vaginas and not all people with vaginas are women!! Pleas include trans people in your feminism or it means absolutely nothing!” added a third.
As the comments suggest, the type of language used by Midler was believed to be exclusionary. Terms like ‘birthing people’ and ‘menstruators’ are adopted terms designed to be inclusive of people who may not have been assigned female at birth, but still identify as female. Midler arguing against the use of these terms felt tone deaf during a time where people are fighting for reproductive rights in general, not just for women.
It took about 48 hours for Midler to address the controversy, but she came back to Twitter, insisting that there was no ill intent behind her message, chalking it up to a mere misunderstanding.
“There was no intention of anything exclusionary or transphobic in what I said; it wasn’t about that,” she started.
Then, things took a turn. In an attempt to clarify what she meant, Midler referenced an op-ed written in The New York Times titled, ‘The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count.’
Describing it as ‘fascinating’ and ‘well-written’, Midler explained that Pamela Paul’s piece inspired her tweet — except the piece in question was widely criticised as being transphobic.
The op-ed received significant backlash for equating the far right’s war on reproductive rights to the left’s “effectively misogynist agenda” of advocating for gender-neutral language that would be more inclusive for trans people.
Despite referencing this piece, Midler strongly insisted that she is not anti trans, and did not mean to offend anyone with her tweet.
“I’ve fought for marginalized people for as long as I can remember. Still, if you want to dismiss my 60 years of proven love and concern over a tweet that accidentally angered the very people I have always supported and adored, so be it,” she wrote.
T”he truth is, Democracy is slipping through our fingers! I’m all in on trying to save Democracy for ALL PEOPLE. We must unite, because, in case you haven’t been paying attention, divided we will definitely fall.”