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Bette Midler responds to backlash over tweet criticized as transphobic

Midler said the tweet was taken out of context, writing, "I’ve fought for marginalized people for as long as I can remember"
Bette Midler
Bette Midler sent the tweet Monday, July 4, followed by a Twitter thread posted Tuesday, July 5.Rob Kim / Getty Images

Bette Midler is defending a tweet many have characterized as transphobic.

Monday, July 4, the "Hocus Pocus" star said on Twitter the word "women" is facing erasure.

"We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name," she tweeted. "They don’t call us 'women' anymore; they call us 'birthing people' or 'menstruators', and even 'people with vaginas.'"

Midler ended the tweet with, "Don't let them erase you. Every Human on Earth Owes you."

Midler's tweet was met with a firestorm of responses in which many criticized her for not being gender inclusive. Midler responded to the backlash in a new Twitter thread posted Wednesday, in which she wrote that her tweet was not exclusionary on purpose but rather a critique regarding "the same old s--- women — ALL WOMEN — have been putting up with since the cavemen."

The specific backlash she received and her detailed response in full are the latest in an ongoing culture war on language and gender.

Backlash to the tweet

Responses to Midler's tweet have largely condemned her for failing to accept inclusivity in this area.

Alexandra Billings, a transgender actress and activist, said on Twitter that Midler in particular knows the power language has given her background in singing and songwriting.

“Language is in constant movement,” Billings tweeted. “As a singer, you know that words matter and as we progress, their meanings change. Your tweet is hurtful and promotes the erasure of non binary humans. You are now becoming part of the problem. Do better. Listen more.”

A famous drag queen who goes by Crystal quote-tweeted Midler with an acknowledgement of the patriarchy Midler, 76, critiqued in her tweet while also saying such criticism can happen without disparaging transgender people.

"The fight for women's rights includes trans people — trans rights do not erode women's rights. We're all fighting this together and this trans-exclusionary rhetoric does nothing to help that."

Diane E. Anderson, a nonbinary person who uses gender-neutral pronouns, used sharper language to characterize Midler's tweet. Anderson said on Twitter it is common for cisgender women (who still identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) to reject using language aimed at including transgender people (who identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth).

"Cis-women's insistence on not being called people is really fascinating," Anderson said. "Also stop comparing people using inclusive language to bigots who are taking our rights away."

Another person on Twitter agreed with Midler that the word "women" is used less and thinks the change is an important one.

"If 'pregnant people' upsets you, then I’ll gladly start saying 'pregnant women, pregnant men, and pregnant non-binary people' so that the word 'women' appears," the person tweeted. "I’ll sacrifice character space to be more specific, but I WILL NOT sacrifice trans-inclusive language."

Sarah C. DiSilvey works in social justice and health equity fields and quote-tweeted Midler with, "no one is erasing us. We simply must be careful in the case of reproductive justice to include all people who can reproduce. (Of course.) We also must be careful when discussing gender to include all women. If you feel erased by creating room for others, please evaluate yourself."

Midler's response

On Tuesday, Midler doubled down on her tweet saying, "there was no intention of anything exclusionary or transphobic in what I said;  it wasn’t about that."

"PEOPLE OF THE WORLD: My tweet about women was a response to this fascinating and well written piece in the NYT on July 3rd," Midler tweeted with a link to the article.

Midler clarified in a thread that the initial tweet was "about the same old s--- women — ALL WOMEN — have been putting up with since the cavemen. Even then, men got top billing."

Midler challenged critics who called her transphobic in wake of the initial tweet.

"If anyone who read that tweet thinks I have anything but love for any marginalized people, go to Wikipedia and type in my name," she said in a thread. "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."

Midler ended her Twitter thread by calling on people to stand united in the face of oppression.

"Democracy is slipping through our fingers," she wrote. "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.