Last week, I wrote about why I’m pro trans and pro choice. Given the sheer quantity of comments, I’m not sure I made myself clear enough.
I think that broad judgments based on perceived biology have historically had some bearing on the oppression of women. I also think that biological essentialism is meaningless and can only be deployed oppressively in the present day, as scientific and sociological understanding of gender and sex has progressed. Some time ago, I wrote about evolutionary psychology, and very charitably decided to pretend that perhaps all of the just-so stories explaining differences in behaviour of the sexes were true. And I concluded that even then, that does not mean it is in any way relevant now:
Wisdom teeth, though, were highly useful to humans when we first evolved. Humans were still a long way off inventing dental hygiene, and, so, tended to die once all of their teeth had rotted away and they could no longer eat. Wisdom teeth, emerging in the mid-twenties, gave an extra few years of life: four more teeth meant more time being able to eat. With the advent of dental hygiene, we no longer lose all of our teeth to decay, and wisdom teeth have become an annoyance. When a wisdom tooth grows into a mouth full of healthy teeth, there is often not enough room, and the new tooth impacts. I had a wisdom tooth that solved the lack-of-space problem by growing horizonally. Each time I bit down, it would take a chunk out of the inside of my cheek. I had it removed.
Wisdom teeth, then, are a solution to a problem that no longer exists, and when the tooth becomes a problem we have it yanked out.
If one were to assume that claims regarding gender made by evolutionary psychology were true, these gender roles are as irrelevant to modern life as wisdom teeth. They are a solution to a problem that no longer exists: we shop in supermarkets now; we have modern health care; our children are sent off to school; we have DNA testing for identification of fathers; we can have sex for pleasure with a very low risk of reproduction. The adaptations we developed to childrearing and mating problems no longer exist.
Why, then, would we cling on to the notion that it’s perfectly natural to rape, to cheat, to subscribe to the idea that male and female minds are inherently different, and so such things are inevitable?
We can overcome wisdom teeth, and, if any of the shaky claims of evolutionary psychology regarding gender turn out to be true, we can yank that out of our society, too.
The same is true for biological essentialist arguments. Maybe once upon a time, “woman” was defined only by capacity for childbirth, or only by presence of a vagina, or only by whether she had periods or not–although, you can see by the quantities of “ors” in that sentence that even if we try to trace back through history, what defines a woman is pretty complicated if we’re going on biology alone. And yes, this nonsense has persisted through time, from the bizarre belief that uteruses could roam throughout the body causing all sorts of negative effects to the belief that everything a menstruating woman touched became unclean. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario: society was built upon misogyny, along with its science. Science, after all, is not objective: the questions it asks and answers are rooted in the society asking those questions.
It’s only relatively recently that we have even begun to ask the right questions, and noticed that actually the whole thing is a house of cards, and should rightly come crashing down. We realised that biological sex is far more complicated than the somewhat-complicated way it had originally seemed. Hormones and chromosomes, internal and external biological characteristics–none of it necessarily matched up. Some still cling to essentialism, despite its utter meaninglessness, to produce bad science to suggest that rape is inevitable, or that men and women have different brains and only men can do the logical stuff. But the science is not on their side, and there is an increasing level of criticism levelled at such work because, at its heart, it is terrible science and tells us very little beyond what misogynists believe to be true.
Most feminists are rightly deeply critical of biological essentialism, knowing, as we do, how it keeps us down. And many of us embrace the advances that have brought us closer and closer to liberating ourselves from it. It is fucking lovely not having to be defined by our reproductive status, freeing ourselves from the idea that this is what our bodies are for. Many of us use synthetic hormones to regulate our bodies, and sometimes to eradicate menstruation. Surgery has advanced so that women without cunts can have cunts if they want. Science is looking into the possibility of uterus transplants, so women who cannot bear children will be able to. We are making a hell of a lot of progress, and the hold of biologically essentialist misogyny is slipping.
Unfortunately, some feminists are holding us back. Some feminists have embraced biological essentialism. The motive for this is an attempt to somehow “prove” that trans women are not women, cloaking their transmisogyny in pseudoscientific language by pretending that “female” and “woman” are two different things, and that “female” is somehow a scientifically valid category. Often, this is presented in a way that is even more dehumanising than the way MRAs talk about women, like this gem from Gia Milinovich where she bangs on about “female mammalians” and claims that our understanding of biology is in no way related to culture.
Taking this argument to its logical conclusion leads to some deeply unpleasant thought, like this:
Here, we see an attempt to define purpose of vaginas, deeply rooted in biologically essentialist misogyny*. Now, I have made the choice to not give birth, and I don’t need to go into why, because it’s my body and my choice, and the world has progressed to a position where I am able to make that choice. My vagina, if I get my way, will never be used for a role in babymaking. As for the bleeding, I find it quite fun**, but I don’t really feel like it’s an essential characteristic of my womanhood, nor would I feel that if my period ever stopped, my vagina would become purposeless. But my vagina is hardly a useless hole: far from it. It’s for shuddering orgasms. This part of my body is a delight to me. A finger or a dildo in there feels like heaven as I feel it brush my G-spot, and I feel my clit grow hard around it. And yes, I tend to prefer dildos, and I am aware of just how horrifying homophobic patriarchy finds that. I don’t use it for reproduction, and I don’t have to because we have moved on enough to no longer be defined and confined by our reproductive organs.***
I am a woman. I am still a woman, despite not even knowing what hormones my body produces due to years of taking synthetic hormones. I am still a woman, despite the fact that I have never given birth and do not plan to. I will still be a woman if, like my mother, severe fibroids necessitate a radical hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy at some point in my future.
Once upon a time, biological essentialism was all there was. We grew up. And we are slowly slinging off this burden, leading to the liberation of all women. We must fight biological essentialism wherever we see it, and liberate ourselves fully from these archaic constraints.
Un-gendering sex: a feminist project? (I am because you are)
Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender (Alice Nuttall)
How Cissexist Partiarchy Works (Alien She)
Duplicitous or £9 notes…? (UnCommon Sense)
*I am 95% certain that the “ten pound note” reference refers to wanknotegate, which suggests that this Twitter conversation is basically barbs targeted at me, which has been expanded into misogyny.
**It is worth noting at this point that a common trope among transmisogynists is to claim that trans women will not let cis women talk about menstruation. I think it is abundantly clear here that such policing of discussion of menstruation can come just as much from cis women.
***DISCLAIMER: This, of course, refers only to my own relationship with my own cunt.
Note on comments: I’m not approving TERfy/MRAish comments (I find it impossible to distinguish which is which, because they all just use the word “female” a lot and cast women as walking wombs), as this blog is a safe space for marginalised women. Go and whine about me on your own blogs.