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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Did my views on trans women change?

Originally posted at The Idge of Reason

Appropriating the language of feminism for misogyny is a problem. That is not about denying trans women anything. Trans women need the discussion of structural inequality that they face part of. Feminism is not about controlling the worlds women so they have to concentrate on managing your identity instead of the lives they face because of structural inequality imposed on them for being women. Women did not choose the things attributed to our gender, even if you value them. They are not an innate part of womanhood. If your identity is so fragile you need women to manage it for you, that is about you, not them. There is no female brain that meant women wanted to be subservient for years. There is the responsibilities that still fall disproportionately to women, there is economic inequality rooted in this, there is the reason feminism existed in the first place. Which has not gone away.

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Woman by Proxy

Originally published by Julian Vigo on Medium

What the non-binary/gender fluid/transgender (et al) movement has completely missed is that women have been articulating their discomfort with gendered constructs through various precise and eloquent feminist discourses for decades. I have steadfastly maintained that all humans — especially females — are non-binary through the performatives of the everyday and the political and social constraints imposed upon their lives and bodies. Sexism functions on the assumption that females should match the singular, social definition of “woman” and it is against this monolith of gender against which women have historically fought as women have had to negotiate the interstices of gender, straddling the contradictions, negotiating the discomforts. That struggle took the form of women defying their bodies and families, deracinating the mechanisms and political codes of gender, and transforming their bodies into a socially and politically tendentious vehicle for political and even personal liberation. Women have always known that gender was never real simply because they had to become so well-versed in manoeuvring around it for survival.

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Reclaiming Women

Originally posted by Stephanie Davies-Arai at Wales Arts Review

There’s a strange thing happening to the distinct group formerly known as ‘women.’ The change in meaning of the word has crept up on us but it has become so established this past year across the media, government, public institutions and women’s groups that I find myself wondering ‘Who is International Women’s Day for?’ I don’t know anymore, I’d have to check with the organisers: ‘When you say ‘women’ who do you mean?’ The only answer permissible would be ‘anyone who self-identifies as a woman’ because anything thing else would be exclusive of transsexual males and therefore ‘transphobic.’

Already I can hear the sharp intake of breath from those shocked at that term ‘transsexual males;’ already I have declared myself ‘transphobic’ by not using the term ‘trans women.’ I do use that term sometimes out of courtesy, but I use accurate terminology here because that’s what this piece is about. A ‘trans woman’ is a male who identifies as the opposite sex, that’s all, no judgment. ‘Transsexual male’ is accurate and facts in themselves are neutral.

Clarity of language is important, words and their meanings influence thought; it matters to be factual.

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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…

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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What Makes a Woman?

Originally published by The New York Times

Do women and men have different brains?

Back when Lawrence H. Summers was president of Harvard and suggested that they did, the reaction was swift and merciless. Pundits branded him sexist. Faculty members deemed him a troglodyte. Alumni withheld donations.

But when Bruce Jenner said much the same thing in an April interview with Diane Sawyer, he was lionized for his bravery, even for his progressivism.

“My brain is much more female than it is male,” he told her, explaining how he knew that he was transgender.

This was the prelude to a new photo spread and interview in Vanity Fair that offered us a glimpse into Caitlyn Jenner’s idea of a woman: a cleavage-boosting corset, sultry poses, thick mascara and the prospect of regular “girls’ nights” of banter about hair and makeup. Ms. Jenner was greeted with even more thunderous applause. ESPN announced it would give Ms. Jenner an award for courage. President Obama also praised her. Not to be outdone, Chelsea Manning hopped on Ms. Jenner’s gender train on Twitter, gushing, “I am so much more aware of my emotions; much more sensitive emotionally (and physically).”

A part of me winced.

I have fought for many of my 68 years against efforts to put women — our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods — into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes. Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side — people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination — are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us.

That’s the kind of nonsense that was used to repress women for centuries. But the desire to support people like Ms. Jenner and their journey toward their truest selves has strangely and unwittingly brought it back.

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