As I sat cosied up with my coffee this morning, I came across this article by Gaby Hinsliff. Remarking that “if there ever was a universal consensus on How to Be a Woman, it’s dissolving fast”, she discusses the changing notions of femininity and womanhood. It made me a little uneasy to see various mentions of gender in her article, but none of sex. Because while I support trans rights, I’m really concerned at the erasure of biological sex in the definition of women.
Female biology is important. I was on a volunteer placement in India a while back – where I learned that huge numbers of menstruating girls have no access to sanitary products and where the topic is such a source of taboo and shame that they are kept from school. Where female foeticide (aborting unborn female babies) is so widespread that it has skewed the population demographic. The International Development Research Centre estimates that selective abortion is responsibility for 10 million missing girls in India since 1985.
These are sex-based oppressions: girls and women literally dying because of being female. In the US, the sex-based oppressions are different: a lack of affordable contraception, maternity care and abortion. But if you remove any mention of biological sex from the idea of being a woman, you are in effect saying that these sex-based oppressions don’t matter. You’re also stymying efforts to tackle these problems, because you’re removing the very language that articulates them.
Woman – a loaded word
Living rurally as I do, I couldn’t make the recent women’s marches protesting Donald Trump. But I did buy a knitted pussy hat, and have been strutting about it in ever since. Upon reading that various transactivists were calling pussy hats transphobic (because they represent vaginas), I was really pissed off. I want to be good trans ally, but as someone who has been grabbed by the vagina, twice, I’d say it’s up to me how I respond to those assaults, and what I wear to protest them.
I’ve seen transactivists affirming that the mere mention of female biology is “literally violence”, while Planned Parenthood now refers to women as ”menstruators”. The British Medical Association is also removing the words ‘woman’ and ‘mothers’. To any guys reading this – how would you feel if the word ‘man’ became politically loaded and you were to be referred to as ‘ejaculators’? Would you be cool with that, or would you find it a tad dehumanising?
It goes without saying that trans people need to be actively included when medical providers outline their services, but there’s no logical line from there to erasing the word ‘woman’ and any mention of female biology. There is, there has to be a way of supporting our trans sisters without policing the language that lets us describe the realities of being female.