Can we have a word?
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans capable of giving birth.
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans with uteruses or ovaries.
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans who shed their uterine linings.
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans who can have a hysterectomy.
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans who can go through menarche or menopause.
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans for whom not menstruating between ages 14 and 45 is a cause for worry and a doctor visit.
There’s a group of human beings who are the only humans for whom a low testosterone level is physiologically normal, and not a sufficient cause for medical intervention.
This group of human beings, comprising just a bit over half the overall population, on average, is shorter, slower, and physically weaker than another group, comprising just under half of the overall population.
There used to be a word for this group. That word was “women.”
People who had been called “men” before decided they were now “women,” and we would have to give that up. Perhaps we could simply be called “female”?
No, that was not sufficient. When we tried that, we got this:
So now, people who would previously have been classified as “men,” “adult human males,” were now women upon self-declaration, and because of this self-declaration, combined with the “adult human female” definition of “woman,” were now female as well.
There is no word available to describe the group of people I have described above that won’t either be:
- Called transphobic,
- Co-opted by members of the other group of humans (previously called “men”) for their own use, with the group of humans described above (previously “women”) no longer able to use the word just for themselves, or
“Assigned female at birth” doesn’t work, because it’s not true (sex is observed before birth for almost all infants in the developed world now), and it actually does exclude intersex people while appropriating their terminology.
New attempts have now been made: “Menstruator.” But these attempts at inclusivity are misguided (how can anyone with a postmodern interpretation of gender determine from a cursory glance, or someone’s gender presentation, whether they menstruate — when we are told gender and sex are impossible to determine except by self-identification).
They’re also not going to work. Already, people from the category formerly called “men” are telling the people formerly called “women” that menstruation can take place in both groups, even though it only involves the shedding of uterine lining in one. “Bleeder” separates the uterine shedders from those with psychosomatic “periods,” but males with gender reassignment surgery claim that their bleeding as a result of this surgery, which is typically absorbed by menstrual pads, is a symbolic menarche and that they should be considered “bleeders” as well.
So this becomes the question: #CanWeHaveAWord ?
Because until we can, there’s no way to center a movement around this group of humans. There’s no way to have a “women’s movement” that centers reproductive justice for this entire category.
The nameless group, the category formerly known as “women” or “adult human females,” is told by modern “gender performance” theorists that it can only have a name as long as no one from the other group wants it. It can only have a name if literally every member of its category fits every part of its definition.
Intentional, willful misrepresentation of biological definition of womanhood typically includes the argument “what about women who’ve had hysterectomies, are they not women, if women are egg-producers and uterus-havers?”
They know — even if they could not put it so plainly — that uterus-having at any point in life is not a necessary criterion of womanhood, but it is sufficient to categorize someone as a woman. Menstruation is not necessary for being a woman, but having menstruated by shedding one’s uterine lining is sufficient evidence of being one. Having given birth, gone through menopause, all of these experiences are not experienced by all women, they are not necessary to belong to the category. But knowing about even one of these experiences is sufficient to know (with far better certainty than, say, an HIV test has of detecting HIV) a person’s chromosomes and aspects of their medical history, like how puberty likely impacted them, and whether they are likely to menstruate.
You can tell that even the pomo-sick “gender performance” advocates know this — or they couldn’t refer to a group of women as “menstruators” without going through their trash.
Even they want to be able to have a word for “women.” You know, real women. The group of humans that everyone — even queer theorists — knows are women.
Make no mistake: when they’re not playing middle-class semantics games to obscure the basics of biological reality and ostracize non-believers, queer theorists do know biological sex exists. They know this group of people exists, that the word “woman” used to refer to something concrete (and still does, for normal people).
They just don’t want you to be able to talk about women/the group formerly known as women/female human beings … no matter how many hoops you’re willing to jump through.
6 thoughts on “#CanWeHaveAWord? Why Talking About Women’s Issues Has Become a Minefield”
Excellent article. Thank you for writing about this important topic.
Fact is, we are those formerly AND CURRENTLY known as women. But TRAs probably wouldn’t leave our word alone unless we called ourselves “schmoops” or something.
Just… call yourself cis women/females…
But that doesn’t work. It doesn’t include the huge range of people who have all these same issues who don’t identify as cis women. Genderqueer, nonbinary female people, and trans men all belong to this category.
PS “nonbinary afab” means “I’m too cool to be like the other girls.” It gets less and less cute as you get older to hold yourself out in this way.
I mean, back in the day we called those people “cis women”, until a small group of them decided they were nonbinary transmascs or whatever and demanded that everyone switch to using more “inclusive” language like “ovary havers” and “chest feeding” (which, for the record, basically every actual female-to-male transsexual hates with a burning passion). And because 99.8% of them are white and upper class they got people to comply.
Tbh though the role of race and class is striking in this whole “trans*” issue. Every autogynephile seems to be white and an alumnus of a private college, which they probably attended before deciding to go trans. Same with all the ~nonbinary females. Actually I can’t think of a white trans public figure who would actually meet the criteria for classic “transsexualism”, and the only reason I know any white transsexuals at all is because I’ve specifically tried to reach out to only people who actually have sex dysphoria. Could easily believe they make up 1% or less of the trans identified white population. But if you go down a few notches on the income scale into a poor white community things are different, & among black, indigenous & latinx people (in the USA) things are very different to the point where, e.g., you’re almost never going to find a black AGP. And across the rest of the world outside of the Western bubble trans/gender-nonconforming communities look much more like the ones in west Atlanta than the ones on the grounds of Wesleyan University