Birth wars: the politics of childbirth

Originally published by Glosswitch at the New Statesman

To be of woman born is a universal experience, yet women themselves remain a diffuse, fractured group. “What is a woman, anyway?” is still considered a deep, meaningful question to ask. The polite answer is, of course, “whatever anyone wants it to be”. More than that would close off the vessel, seal the hole, glue back together the broken shell. There’s a sense in which women are simply not meant to be whole. We need to be in pieces so that men can survive intact.

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A trans man’s egg retrieval

Originally posted at Purple Sage

This is the story of a trans man being misgendered while getting her eggs retrieved so they can be implanted into her wife for gestation. (And I note that this trans man is biologically female and has a female partner, which, by the way, makes her a lesbian.)

I’m already quite fascinated by this person after the first paragraph. She saw herself carrying a child for most of her life, but not after she came out as a trans man. This tells me that she was in fact living as a woman for most of her life, and was not feeling uncomfortable about using her female biology to create a child. This makes me wonder about the nature of sex dysphoria, if a trans man can spend most of her life feeling comfortable with the idea of carrying a child. Doesn’t that mean that she does NOT hate her female biology? This stuff just doesn’t make sense to me.

The first time she recalls being mistreated at the clinic, this is what happened:

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Women Saying ‘No’

Originally posted at Gender Apostates

Women have always been called names for saying no. Frigid, bitch, prude. These words are meant to shame us into saying yes.

Women are supposed to be available, welcoming, obedient, and it has been the aim of the women’s movement since its inception to challenge these preconceptions, to say no to men’s definition of us.

It is thanks to feminism that since 1991 wives can say no to their husbands and have that ‘no’ backed up by law. It is thanks to feminism that women no longer have to accept dismissal if they marry or become pregnant. It is thanks to feminism that women in the West are beginning to feel confident in saying no to men in myriad different situations.

Prude, bitch, frigid don’t sting like they used to. Misogynists in the west are losing society’s assumption that women should say yes. Increasingly, it is they who are shamed for insisting. As feminists we applaud this.

However, when it comes to transgender males, men who wish to call themselves women – or more to the point want us to call them women – the story is very different. If we say no to the appropriation of our name, our bodies, our struggle, it is we women who are shamed. We’re being re-named: TERF, cis, transphobe. We’re being re-named by men who wish to try on the costume ‘woman’; they think it doesn’t fit us any more, us no-sayers are not the pliable girls of their dreams, and we must share.

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REFUTED: Sex and gender oppression harms trans women more than “cis” women

Originally posted on Tumblr

Claim: Sex-based oppression targets trans women.

No, gender-based oppression affects trans women. Because of the gender “woman.” Females are oppressed based on their sex and the fact that they can get pregnant (and what they have to do to not become pregnant or to end a pregnancy, something trans women do not have to do), gestate fetuses (which puts them at physical risk in all kinds of ways) – also something that males can’t do, as well as give birth (yet more risk), and breastfeed.

Claim: Under patriarchy, women who are unable to bear children are less valued. This affects trans women.

No, trans women are not affected by this because no one expects males to bear children. Additionally, many trans women are fathers before their transitions. 95% of females are capable of giving birth in their lifetimes. THAT is reality for why females are discriminated against and marginalized for not bearing children.

Claim: Women are socialised to be quiet and defer to men and do “women’s work.” This affects trans women.

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Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

Originally posted at sian and crooked rib

What’s the hardest thing about being a woman? According to Caitlyn Jenner in today’s Buzzfeed, it’s deciding what to wear in the morning.
Maybe it was a joke? Maybe she was joking? Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and say she was joking. But I’m not sure who the joke is on. And right now, it feels like the joke is on all women. Because how trivialising it is, to say that the hardest thing we have to deal with is deciding what to wear. How pointless our battles for self-determination, bodily autonomy and liberation all sound, if our biggest worry is what to wear. It feels like if it is a joke, then I’m the butt of it.
But it got me thinking. What is the hardest thing about being a woman? Where to start! I’ve chosen my ‘Top Ten!’ below. Some of them are true for ALL women ALL of the time. (Edit: by referring to ALL women, I’m including trans women. I want to make it very clear that much of this list is true for all women including trans women.) Some are true for most women, most of the time. And none of them involve me deciding whether the T-shirt I put on this morning was the right length to cover my tummy.
Here goes…

Trans Identity Within Women’s Spaces

Originally published at Whole Woman

Where can women discuss their bodily functions if not in women’s groups?

To date I have stayed well away from the trans issues that currently dominate many areas of feminism. Why? Because I largely work with pregnant women and women who have birth trauma and I have never encountered an actual trans person who has needed my support in these areas. But as time goes on I get more and more hate mail from liberal feminists, for not altering year’s worth of work to be trans inclusive and now I’ve reached critical mass, and I’m going there.

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“Pregnant Person” is the “All Lives Matter” of Reproductive Healthcare

Originally published at Gender Detective

Earlier this month, transgender activist Trevor MacDonald published two opinion pieces on the Huffington Post, each to attack the feminist organization Woman-Centered Midwifery. Woman-Centered Midwifery has earned the ire of the transgender movement for their open letter to the Midwives Alliance of North America, protesting MANA’s decision to remove all mention of the word “mother” or “woman” from most of their literature. Woman-Centered Midwifery made a simple request, signed by over a hundred prominent birth experts, activists, and feminists – that an organization devoted to promoting and organizing midwives shouldn’t deny the link between womanhood and birth. This was, of course, enough to bring down a torrent of condemnation, harassment, and threats by transgender activists.

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Pregnancy and birth can never be “biologically neutral”

Originally posted at Woman-Centered Midwifery

Michelle: What we’re talking about is the biological reality of human beings, a dimorphic species made of males and females. And all we’re doing is observing: what is presenting on this newborn’s body? And when that mother is ready to receive that information, most of the time, she process that information herself.

MaryLou: I’ve been at so many births where the 45 minutes goes by before the family even thinks to look because they’re just so excited that the person is here, the baby is here. And the sex of the baby doesn’t even matter until they sort of come back out of the, like you said, that spiritual awe of the experience. But to say that we’re assigning sex or gender is no different than saying that we’re assigning human to the baby. Or that we’re assigning the baby’s species. These are biological facts and observations. When we do a newborn exam we always test to see if the baby’s palette is intact. We’re not assigning the baby with an intact palette. We’re observing.

Michelle: Either the baby has one, or the baby doesn’t have one. We’re doing an assessment. We do a new born exam and we’re looking at what is the characteristic of the baby. Have the testicles descended. These are all biological realities.

MaryLou: Are there ten fingers, are there ten toes. We’re not assigning—I’ve assigned you two hands—you know? And even beyond that, midwives have been arguing for a long time against pre-natal sex determination, and that we don’t believe ultra sound should be used gratuitously. We feel like that technology is unnecessary. Midwives have been advocating not finding out the sex particularly because we don’t want families assigning gender.

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A linguistic analysis of ‘woman’

Originally posted at Purple Sage

What is a woman? Until recently, the word woman has unambiguously meant an adult human female, where female means the sex that produces ova and can bear young. But males are now being called ‘woman’ too. The word woman has been expanded to mean either an adult human female, or an adult human male who would like to be referred to as female. The only way that males can be called ‘woman’ is if ‘woman’ is a social category to which anyone can belong rather than a biological category based on observable criteria. However, even if ‘woman’ is a social category to which anyone can belong, we still need to define what is meant by ‘woman,’ in order to understand who is included in this category. We can change the meanings of words, but we still need to agree on what they mean in order to communicate effectively.

It is normal for words to change meaning over time. Language changes as new words come into being and as people use old words in new ways. Lots of people study the use of language and the way language changes. Here I’m going to contrast the fields of lexicography and terminology in order to demonstrate the way two different approaches to the word ‘woman’ give us two different outcomes.

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800 maternal deaths a day is not gender neutral

Originally published at glosswatch

Last week I wrote an article on the discrimination suffered by pregnant women and new mothers. In doing so I wished to stress that such discrimination is rooted not in the nature of pregnancy itself, but in the low status accorded to women as a class. If the rules changed overnight and people of higher status – men – got pregnant, we would treat the whole process very differently. Instead, we live in a world where 800 women die every single day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This isn’t because pregnancy happens; it’s because it only happens to people who don’t matter. These people we call “women.”

Yesterday I received some feedback on the piece, which I’ve edited below:

Your article rests on two pillars, that A) men cannot breastfeed and B) men cannot give birth. […]. Many trans men choose to retain their breasts and/or genitals and can happily do both of the above.

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