Doula Mode, Fertility, Pregnancy, The Journey

“Of Course I’m Inclusive:” A Look at Gendered Language & Care Providers

Amanda Spakowski | September 26, 2021

Many doulas and care providers will claim that they are inclusive because they feel kind and welcoming. However, unless they’ve learned what the acts of inclusion are, they may be inadvertently operating through assumptions and microaggressions that marginalize the gender and sexually diverse (GSD) community.

To demonstrate this, I googled “Doula Toronto” and looked at the first page of results. I went to each homepage and counted the occurrence of gendered language and images vs. that of inclusive language and images.

Here’s what I found:

The dominant image was feminine – many websites only had feminine-presenting people on their homepages. Some had images of couples and single people, but regardless of the image, if a person was intended to be read as a woman, they were feminine-presenting. None of the websites had images of people who could be read as non-binary, androgynous, transmasculine, or transfeminine. In 9 pages, feminine-presenting people occurred 42 times.

There were no images of couples where both could be read as male on the home page. Perhaps if I dug a little deeper into the websites there may have been more images, but the home page is your first impression; it’s where visitors will either leave because you haven’t made them feel “at home” or they’ll click through to learn more about you. So immediately, with simply the look of these home pages, the absence of visible GSD families creates doubt in the visitor as to your ability to understand and support them as a GSD family.

The next most common image was that of couples, which appeared 18 times. While couples may be the most common family group you work with, there is a growing number of non-monogamous or co-parenting family groups who may be 3 or more people. It’s important to note that the make-up of these groups may be a mix of those who are romantically involved with each other and/or not romantically involved. It’s important not to assume what the relationship is between people in each family group and instead, give them the opportunity to specify for themselves if it’s relevant to you as their care provider. Adding photos of families that have 3+ people lets visitors know that you’re familiar with this type of family and suggests that all members of their family group would be understood and welcome in your care.

Occurrence of gendered language:

  • mama – 20x
  • woman – 10x
  • breastfeeding -10x
  • mom – 6x
  • mother – 6x
  • mommy – 4x
  • female – 2x
  • breast – 1x

The total incidence of feminine words: 58x

Occurrence of images and words of inclusion:

  • Visible GSD family groups in images – 0x
  • Partner – The word “partner” was used quite frequently and has been readily adopted as the inclusive word to use. However, “partner” is often used with the assumption of a romantic, two-person couple. The word “partner” does not capture non-monogamous or co-parenting relationships. It also doesn’t represent family groups that are made up of a couple and a donor, or a single person and a surrogate for example. So while “partner” is inclusive to some degree, it doesn’t represent a span of GSD families. As such, using the word partner does not, in itself indicate your ability as an inclusive practitioner. Instead, consider writing your website as if you’re speaking directly to your visitor. Say “you” where possible as this term can encompass one person or many people. Use more generic terms like “when pregnant” or “the person carrying the baby,” or “those who are supporting a pregnant person.”
  • LGBT – Can you find it in the cloud? It’s the tiny little word in the “p” of the word “couple” – LGBT came up once in the 9 home pages reviewed.
  • Pride flag – 2x

The opportunity to provide pronouns occurred only 1 time. However, it was presented as “what is your preferred pronoun.” When asking for pronouns, simply ask “what is your pronoun, “ and leave out the “preferred.” The use of the word “preferred” suggests that there is an option to honoring the pronoun provided when in most cases, it’s not optional – it’s fact. In your intake form, provide an optional box for pronouns. Some people will find it important to share pronouns and others will not want to share or perhaps don’t feel that any pronoun describes them. While you’re waiting to learn someone’s pronouns, refer to them by name, use “they” instead of the gendered “he/she” or restructure your sentence so as not to require a pronoun.

Example: Instead of “A pregnant woman needs support after her birth,” say “After the delivery, parents often need support to adjust to their new schedule.”

In total, someone scrolling through the first page of google results for “doulas Toronto” will experience 119 gendered references in the form of images and language and only 4 inclusive references (if we leave out the word “partner” as an inclusive word). How do you imagine someone would feel viewing these sites who is not a cis-woman? Would they feel confident in reaching out to you to inquire about care? Would they feel confident that they would be met with understanding and not with confusion or negativity? Would a cis-femme woman carrying a child look at your site and feel confident that you would understand the experience of their transmasculine partner and not default to calling them both “moms” for example?

The cloud above demonstrates that you don’t need to be outright disrespectful to create doubt in potential clients about your ability and capability of caring for them. In so doing, you risk turning visitors away from your care before they’ve had a chance to speak with you, and this could be why some practitioners indicate that they’ve never had an LGBTQ client.

It’s not enough that you feel like an inclusive person to actually be inclusive. You need to proactively communicate this in the look (language and imagery) of your website and materials and then continue this work in the language of your intake forms, contracts, conversations, descriptions of your care, your resources and business partners, etc. Otherwise, claiming inclusivity and throwing the pride flag on your site is performative, ineffective, and actually turns people from the GSD community away.

Amanda Spakowski is a Talent Acquisition and Human Resources professional who specializes in equity, diversity, and inclusion. She currently supports businesses in Toronto to develop their inclusion protocol, is a Board Member and Team Lead for Patient Services for Fertility Matters Canada, and sits on the Mount Sinai Fertility LGBTQ Care Advisory Committee. Amanda has worked with start-ups, private practices, and corporations in a variety of industries including health care, post-secondary education, retail, finance, and sales. She works specifically with each client to develop recommendations, training, and strategies that are specific to their workplace and industry. Amanda has an Honours Degree in Molecular Biology, a certificate in Human Resources Management, another in Reconciliation through Indigenous Education and is currently completing a certificate in Inclusive Management.

Share the Love