The Swedish healthcare service has adopted updated language guidelines that call for a more gender-neutral handling of patients.
Vårdguiden 1177, a national service providing healthcare by telephone, recommends to avoid gendered language even in cases that involve pregnancy and prostate cancer.
"Avoid the word woman to describe a body that looks a certain way", the recommendation clearly says.
The following are among the bad language examples that should be avoided: "Some women who have had eating disorders relapse during pregnancy"; "Many women are worried about giving birth"; and "Each year, almost 10,000 men in Sweden get prostate cancer".
The rationale for the novelty is that there may be pregnant individuals or individuals battling prostate cancer who identify themselves differently.
"We strive to have a norm-critical perspective, so that our texts are inclusive and strengthening", Vårdguiden 1177 explained. "The fact that our guidelines follow a norm-critical perspective means that we constantly need to pay attention to words and formulations that may seem exclusive or evaluative", it further stated.
According to Vårdguiden 1177, avoiding gendered language altogether may be impossible in some contexts. In these cases, personnel are advised to provide an explanation or link to the following text: "What we mean when we write man or woman: When we write the word 'woman', the word is used to describe someone who has what is usually considered having a woman's body. The same goes for the word 'girl'. We use the word 'man' to describe someone who has what is usually considered a male body. The same goes for the words 'boy'".
Recommendations to avoid gendered language whenever possible have been adopted by other healthcare providers across the globe, including the UK's National Health Service.
"We make content gender neutral as far as possible. In general, we word our content to avoid masculine and feminine pronouns ('he' or 'she'). Instead we use 'you' where appropriate and sometimes 'they' when we need a gender-neutral pronoun (unless this is confusing)", its website says.
The US Centres for Disease and Control Prevention also have a section on "Pregnant people".
On social media, the new guidelines were met with scepticism.
"Men cannot get pregnant and women cannot get prostate cancer. If you don't know this, you should go to primary school. Preferably a primary school outside SJWeden because here the entire colossus is already destroyed", one user mused. "In the same way, whereas I identify myself as a lighthouse, I still don't have a giant f*****g lamp in my forehead for ships to find the way".
PSA: Män kan inte bli gravida och kvinnor kan inte få prostatacancer. Vet du inte det så bör du gå om grundskolan. Gärna en grundskola bortanför SJWeden för här är hela kolossen redan förstörd.— π Rat (Jocke) (@SwedishSpaceman) May 8, 2021
"Sorry but men cannot get pregnant and women cannot get prostate cancer. The biology here is self-evident. We do not have to deny basic biology to accept transgender people", another one joined in.
Sorry men män kan ej bli bli gravida och kvinnor kan ej få prostatacancer. Biologin här är självklar. Vi behöver inte förneka grundläggande biologi för att acceptera transpersoner.— John-Peter G. Mall, PhD (@Jay3point14) May 8, 2021
The guidelines made even former Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, an avowed feminist, raise her eyebrows.
"Can it really be true that Vårdguiden recommends that you stop using the words woman and man, including in contexts where it is about pregnancies and prostate problems?!", she tweeted.
Kan det verkligen stämma att Vårdguiden rekommenderar att man ska sluta använda orden kvinna och man, inkl i sammanhang där det handlar om graviditeter och prostatabesvär?!— Margot Wallström (@margotwallstrom) May 7, 2021
"Yes, unfortunately. The woman, her health and biology is being made invisible. The definition of woman is being attacked which is called inclusion", another one wrote.
"At a time when women can have a prostate and men can get pregnant, I wonder why flat-earthers get so much s**t for their twisted ideas? Not because I believe in it myself, but the assumption that the Earth is flat is about as likely as a man getting pregnant", another one tweeted.
I en tid då kvinnor kan få prostata och män kan bli gravida undrar jag varför flat-earthers får så mycket skit för sina skruvade idéer? Inte för att jag tror på det själv, men, att jorden skulle vara platt är ungefär lika sannolikt som att en man skulle bli gravid.— Andréas Forsbom (@AndreasForsbom) May 10, 2021
However, activist and journalist Bilan Osman vehemently defended the guidelines and accused Wallström of transphobia, calling it "peak 2021".