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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No party for non-men

Originally posted at Glosswatch

The problem for the feminist – and for women in general – is not with femininity per se. It is not that taken individually, so-called “masculine” characteristics are in any way better or more useful than “feminine” ones. It is that femininity functions within a system that places women and men under very different social pressures, the primary aim of which is “to ensure that women should be in the power and service of men”.

This is basic feminism. It makes no judgment on what individual men and women are “really” like, rather it points out that the idea of inherent differences between men and women has been used to facilitate male people’s oppression of female people. As Richards puts it, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women” (submission, chastity, unpaid reproductive, emotional and domestic work).

Fast-forward 36 years and it seems we’ve forgotten the basics.  It’s not that we no longer use gender to extract resources and labour from one class of people for the benefit of another. Men still own the vast majority of the world’s material resources. Women still struggle for safety, visibility, education, reproductive autonomy, freedom from abuse. But for some reason we’ve stopped bothering to analyse gender as a social hierarchy. Perhaps it got too hard, or maybe it just got boring. Either way, these days it’s every woman – or non-man – for her/theirself.

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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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All Women Have Vaginas

This is an edited repost of a Tumblr post by little-wolf-teeth, who has since deactivated their account.

Some people claim that the statement “all women have vaginas” reduces women to just that trait and reinforces the idea that the only important part of a woman is her genitals.

But this is false; having a trait does not mean you are nothing but that trait.

E.g. “All dogs have four legs” does not mean dogs are nothing but legs.
“All elephants have big ears” does not mean elephants are nothing but a set of giant-ass ears.
“All male lions have manes” does not mean male lions are nothing but a walking pile of long hair.

If I say “All people with pale skin have a lack of melanin in their genes”, is that reducing all pale people to nothing but the lack of melanin in their genes? Fucking no lol. Stating a scientific fact – that to be part of class or group X, you must possess trait Y, is not reducing anyone down to being nothing but trait Y. It’s simply saying for you to qualify as a part of this group, you must have this specific trait. That’s it.

The qualification of being female (which is what women are) is that you have XX chromosomes and the anatomy necessary for producing ova.

That does not mean that’s all women are, nor, by any fucking stretch of the imagination, does that mean that the only important part of a woman is her XX chromosomes or female sex specific anatomy. Like come on. All it says is that to be a woman, you must be female, and to be female, you must have XX chromosomes and female sex specific anatomy. Everything above and beyond that makes you 100% as valid as a living, breathing, living, experiencing, loving, laughing, working, struggling, thriving woman, just like any other woman on the planet. But you are still female, you are still a woman. And that is not something you can opt in or out of because biology is unchangeable.

You seem to be thinking that a person’s identity as a man or woman is the ultimate totality of their identity as a person, that there is no identity outside of being a man or a woman, or that the identities of men/women as men/women, respectively, encompass all we are and all we’ll ever be. So to you, reducing the definition of a woman down to biology means to reduce the entirety of your personhood down to biology. But that is a false and misinformed perception. We are more than our respective sexes or the gendered expectations that come tied to those. The fact that you have knit your personality and your gender into one uniform identity is not the fault of radfems or science or biology itself. And just because it threatens your perceptions/conceptions of yourself and your political movement does not mean it is inherently untrue or that it is actually the threat you perceive it to be.

Womanhood is not the sum of a person’s personality or identity. Womanhood is simply the lived experience of females, in all their multifaceted diversity.

Saying “whether or not they experience womanhood” in regard to females is meaningless. There is no womanhood but that which is experienced by females. Womanhood is not a subjective experience that can be opted in or out of. It is the experience of female people, plain and simple. Any experience of womanhood by a female is a valid experience, because it is simply that – the female experience. That’s all it is.

Now, you wanna know what does reinstate the notion that the only important part of a woman is her sexual or reproductive anatomy?
 Calling women:
“Uterus havers”
“Birthers”
“Bleeders”
“Vagina people”
“Pregnant people”
”Period havers”

Fighting these battles for decades

Originally posted at Butterflies and Wheels

How DARE you! How VERY dare you, you entitled little shits‽

Your grandmothers, mothers, sisters, ftm cousins, and older transwomen, have been fighting these battles for decades before most of you decided that you’d like to wear dresses and make-up. Did you have no idea, when you discovered your feminine internal person, that by joining the underclass you would automatically lose all the privileges that being born with a penis gave you, whether you asked for or expected such or not? And that by privileging those women born with a penis over all the billions of women who weren’t, you are perpetuating the patriarchal constructs that gave all queer people, including trans people like us, such a fucking hard time until feminists fought for us to have rights?

And then you have the sheer unmitigated gall to accuse people who say “Stop trampling over women” of being TERFs or ‘transmisogynistic’?

And to think I mulled over this for two days, because I was worried that my following initial response was too strong to post. And instead, I decided that it wasn’t strong enough.

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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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Why is it so hard for women to accept their bodies?

Originally published by Glosswitch on The New Statesman

[T]he website xojane ran a piece under the title “I was sterilised and had my breasts removed and I couldn’t be happier”. The author, Lore Graham, a non-binary trans person, described the liberation of electing to have their body surgically modified in order to make it their own:

“I no longer feel like my body is a burden or a liability. It was a female reproduction machine, but I repurposed it to serve who I actually am: The body of an androgynous, neuter person who loves to write, cook, eat, cuddle, have sex, and go on adventures.”

Graham’s body is theirs, to do with as they please, and if this is their route to happiness, good for them. There seems to me nothing strange about experiencing the female reproductive body as “a burden or a liability”. Plenty of people, not to mention employers, do. However, I can’t help feeling there is something terribly depressing about the acceptance that there exists a necessary choice between being “a female reproduction machine” and “an androgynous, neuter person who loves to write, cook, eat, cuddle, have sex, and go on adventures” (in other words, between being a woman or a human being). The body itself is not the problem. Still, it’s all very well for me to say that. One needs to find a way of living in and as one’s own flesh in the world as it currently stands. However much I feel that human shaped ought to encompass woman shaped, too, I know that it doesn’t.

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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…

The worst thing about being a woman

Originally posted at glosswatch

According to Shania Twain, the best thing about being a woman is “the prerogative to have a little fun.” Meanwhile, according to Caitlyn Jenner, the worst thing about being a woman is “figuring out what to wear” (hint: “men’s shirts, short skirts,” apparently).

Somewhere between these two extremes we find the entire range of female experience – or we would, were it not for the fact that female experience cannot be categorised in any way, shape or form. There are infinite variations thereof and to pin down anything at all is to exclude. Hence it turns out even Shania and Caitlyn are on dodgy ground. What about women who aren’t allowed to have fun? What about naturists? Not every woman wears clothes, Jenner, you bigot!

It’s all so difficult, isn’t it? As Tanya Modelski argued in Feminism without women “the once exhilarating proposition that there is no ‘essential’ female nature has been elaborated to the point where it is now often used to scare ‘women’ away from making any generalizations about or political claims on behalf of a group called ‘women’.” Modelski wrote this in 1991, long before feminists were being ordered, in the name of inclusion, to stop making connections between women as an oppressed class and the female body as a biological entity. Because sex is a construct, don’t you know? And reproductive difference is really, really hard to define. Indeed, it’s pure coincidence that people with penises seek to appropriate and control the reproductive labour of people without penises (it’s not as though the possession of a penis offers a massive fucking hint as to which side of the potential impregnator/impregnated divide one might fall on).

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