If you’ve never heard of chestfeeding, you might be surprised to know it’s a real term some say should be used instead of breastfeeding.
Snopes.com recently verified a report that a U.K. hospital’s maternity department will expand terms used in maternity care. The hospital, Snopes said, will refer to pregnant people rather than pregnant women. It will also use chestfeeding instead of breastfeeding.
It’s among the latest skirmish in the fight for “gender-inclusive” language.
Saying pregnant people may sound a bit strange. But if it sounds strange, you have to consider that before there were so many conversations about gender, no one talked about transgender pregnancies. This isn’t new. The language is finally reflecting the fact that a small percentage of pregnancies occur in people who do not necessarily identify as female.
It’s just that for the first time, we now hear talk about it.
But chestfeeding creates a different problem.
A subheading in the Snopes article points out that “adding new words is not the same as banishing the old ones.”
But in this case, we should not add this particular word.
Consider this: every October, we commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We hear news stories about prevention and survivors. Communities and organizations hold public events to spread the word about early detection. We wear pink ribbons. In fact, most events connected with the cause are swathed in pink as if someone doused the calendar with Pepto Bismol. All of the focus — certainly the majority of all of the focus — is on women.
We assume that breast cancer is a women’s disease.
In October 1997, I was part of a TV crew that went to the legendary CBS Television City to shoot behind the scenes at two television shows. One of them happened to be The Price is Right. It was there that I met several stars of the show, including Bob Barker, model Janice Pennington (my favorite of the “Barker’s Beauties”), and announcer Rod Roddy.
Roddy was a ham. A lovable ham, but a ham nonetheless. He spent the most time with us, answering questions and showing us his warm-up routine. He was very gracious to do that.
About six years later, Roddy lost a battle with cancer.
Doctors initially diagnosed him with colon cancer in 2001. He underwent surgery and treatment and recovered.
But the cancer returned and he underwent additional treatment.
In 2003, doctors also diagnosed him with male breast cancer.
Yes. You read that correctly. Men have breasts. Most men don’t like to admit it, but biologically, everyone has breasts. I’m not talking about “man boobs.” I’m talking about the tissue where cancer can develop.
Women have more of it. But men have it, too.
In his final months, Roddy urged men to get colonoscopies and even mammograms, because, he said, it can happen to them, too.
It’s too easy to associate breast cancer with women.
Several close friends of mine — all of them women — received their breast cancer diagnosis in the past couple of years.
Their diagnoses came at different points in the cancer’s development. As a result, some received a better prognosis than others.
Breast cancer is a horrible disease. If there were any cancer I’d love to see eliminated first, it would easily top the list.
But it’s wrong to believe that breast cancer is a woman’s-only disease.
Likewise, it’s wrong to pretend men don’t have “breasts.”
I don’t mind language that promotes inclusivity. I don’t mind language that promotes awareness.
But I do mind language that falsely portrays biology that could further encourage men to ignore a potentially deadly disease. That’s not promoting awareness. That’s promoting ignorance.
You won’t find me using the term “chestfeeding.” I believe that sends a message we should not send.
Those who get offended about the term “breast” should always remember this: breast cancer itself doesn’t care what gender you are.