The holidays always make me reflect on the year past and consider the upcoming new year. As a babywearing educator, I spend great deal of time thinking about my chapter; what has worked, what has not worked, and where improvements can be made. One of the areas I spend a lot of time considering is inclusiveness. Do our members feel welcome and safe coming to our meetings and posting in our discussion group? Am I doing my part as an educator to help people feel included? I have always felt that as volunteers and leaders, we can help set the tone for the group, organization and our community.
One of the best parts of being an educator is knowing other educators! We get to talk, discuss and chat about new tips we learned, tricks for getting a great fit and new ways of thinking about how we do what we do and how we teach what we teach. I was recently lucky enough to have one such conversation with Angelique, a fellow MBE, and president of BWI of Greater Houston. The topic of our discussion was inclusive language, what it means and why we consider it in our own practices. Angelique did a great video on language for teaching babywearing for our vimeo educator series. It was a timely conversation and I thought I would share some of our conversation as we reflect on the year past and the year to come.
What is inclusive language?
A: In the sense that language communicates information, inclusive language could be any communication, spoken or written or even nonverbal, that allows the receivers to feel addressed, considered and respected. It’s a broader definition than literally turning around to say, “It’s language that includes.” I think as humans, we want to be considered, to have our experiences considered. So as babywearing educators, if our goal is to educate and support learning, I think it is helpful to consider how learners could feel as we choose the words we use.
Why is it important to our chapters and organizations?
A: That is a question for you, for each of us. We need to ask ourselves what is our purpose? Who do we want to reach? If you are reaching the people you want to reach, then you are achieving your goals. If we find that we would like to reach more people than we do, using inclusive language could be one way to accomplish that.
In a female dominated space, it may be our habit to use female pronouns. So let’s assume that in most of the babywearing meetings I know of, you would likely be achieving your goal of reaching your intended audience in that moment. What purpose would it serve to use gender-neutral pronouns or male pronouns sometimes? Could it maybe help normalize babywearing for all caregivers? Could it make those individuals you are presenting to consider the option of other wearers in their lives? Could it open the door for others’ participation at a later point in time?
We could think of communication choices like choices we make throwing a party. What kind of a host do you want to be? An active host might greet folks at the door, offer them something to eat, and go out of their way to make sure everyone feels welcomed. Maybe you even asked guests in advance how else you could accommodate them and took on the work associated with that. Or are you a more passive host who assumes that everyone will introduce themselves, and if they need something they will just find it? Or that it’s their job to make the party awesome? Using inclusive language can be like being the active host. It can let individuals know they are welcome and help them feel included.
Self-reflection may be a good tool when thinking about inclusive language. Consider your own world experiences. Do you personally feel included or excluded in your family circle? Why or why not? Then consider your wider scope, your friend circle, your community, your organization. Do you feel included or excluded in those spaces? Why? How could changes in language and behaviors help you feel more included? Then, how could you use this information to reflect on how you could change your language and behaviors to create a more welcoming environment?
What are some examples in the babywearing community and how can we change it to be more inclusive?
A: The most common example I see is the use of mom, mother, mama to refer to the person who carries the baby and cares for baby. We could instead use parent, but even parent can be limiting because of its connotations. So we often suggest caregiver to include anyone who cares for the baby and may wear them. But that’s just substitution. I like to go further and physically include non-female-presenting caregivers in our demos or events. Just changing words isn’t enough.
The terms we use are often based on assumptions and generalizations, like that caregivers who come have partners, that they have a home or want a certain carrier because of the gender presentation of their child. Assumptions can be useful, but if you make too many that are not accurate, it could lead to some folks not feeling included. So inclusion is judged by how the receivers feel, and we do not control other people’s feelings, which makes being inclusive a challenge. But we know we can often affect feelings. So when we do have that power, I think it is kind and responsible and practical of us to try to use it well.
When we look at making a choice in substitution, I like to look at how the original practice came to exist. We need to think about the words we choose to reach our audience and be genuine in our approach. Will the new words you choose actually reach those you want to include, or will it create more problems or leave others out inadvertently? Yes, we often feel like we should do something, but we need to examine why we feel that way and understand where those motivations come from and make informed decisions. Words have different connotations in different contexts. If we want to be effective, it is worth being sensitive and taking time to be aware of those connotations in the communities we work in and want to reach.
Again, do self assessments of how your information is received and what you can change if it is not received the way you intended.
Wrapping it up
I want to thank Angelique for taking the time to chat with me about inclusive language and share some thoughts and considerations for using inclusive language. This is something I think we could have talked about for hours, the above is just the very tip of the iceberg. Again, Angelique has two videos on teaching language that speak to some of this and can be found on our vimeo page. BWI also has a video with Tips for Inclusive Language if you are interested in more on this.