Category Archives: period drama

Biological essentialism: can we not?

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:

twitter-boodleoops-glosswitch-vaginas-are-for

Twitter   Glosswitch  @boodleoops Bleeding is okay ...

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.

Further reading:

Un-gendering sex: a feminist project? (I am because you are)

Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender (Alice Nuttall)

“The day an extremely popular white feminist advocated eugenics and mass abortion of trans people”  (Red Light Politics)

How Cissexist Partiarchy Works (Alien She)

Duplicitous or £9 notes…? (UnCommon Sense)

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*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.

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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.


Me and my menstrual cup

I decided to experiment with a menstrual cup. It was mostly motivated by a somewhat puerile desire to send an angry letter to a politician written in menstrual blood, but I decided against that plan as it was a bit of a silly idea. The desire to send blood-stained missives to politicians obsessed with my uterus was only one reason, though. I was also sick of spending money on tampons.

When I unpacked my shiny new menstrual cup, I had a good look at it. It looked like a very fancy rubbery egg cup, possibly procured from the kind of shop I am usually priced out of. It was the same size and shape as an egg cup, though made of a squidgy, rubbery material. A rubber stem protruded from the base of the cup, and inside the cup were volume markings, like the world’s stingiest shot glass.

After boiling the cup for a few minutes to sterilise it, it was time to insert it. As per the instructions, I folded it in half, then in half again, rendering it approximately the width of a large tampon. I squatted slightly, and began to push the cup inside me. . It was going well. In it went. “I’m doing it!” I thought to myself with joyous rapture. “I’m actually doing- oh.”

Perhaps a salient aspect to this story is that I do not have the best coordination. I was in special needs for my early years at school on account of the fact that I could barely hold a pencil. These days, “Stavving it” is a simile for buffling something in a comical fashion.

And I totally Stavved my first insertion of a menstrual cup. The thing sprang open aproximately half of the way in. With a sigh, I practiced my first removal. It was probably a good practice run seeing as it was not completely inserted.

As per the instructions, I squeezed the cup. There was a hiss of air as the seal broke; for some reason I was reminded of the explosive bolts in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I folded the cup again. This time it went in.

For the next two hours, I kept checking. I could not believe that a rubbery little egg cup stuffed up my cunt could possibly be up to the task, yet there was no leaking. Despite the lack of leakage, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to take it out.

With grim determination, I re-read the instruction booklet. I slightly squatted, fingers poised at cunt. I squeezed the cup. I pulled the stem. And nothing happened. “Oh fuck,” I thought to myself. “I have an egg cup stuck up my fanny.”

I tried every angle I could think of, performing a gymnastic display all over my bathroom floor. In the end, the original position, a semi-squat proved to be The One, in conjunction with a little bit of Kegeling (a push then a squeeze). I looked at the contents. Over two hours, I had barely filled the bottom of the cup. I was nowhere near the 6ml marker, the first of the volume markers. I felt disappointed. My uterus was clearly not up to the task of filling a little cunt-cup.

My first night of sleeping with a menstrual cup exceeded my expectations. I had heard that some women experience a little leakage due to rolling around in their sleep, but this did not happen to me. It actually functioned better than a tampon. I was pleasantly surprised.

Over the next few days, I became familiar with a few quirks of the cup. First, I discovered that sometimes after I went for a wee, it would leak slightly. It was not a leakage problem with the cup; it was something to do with the relaxation of my pelvic floor muscles while pissing.

I also became familiar with the noises the thing made on removal, and eventually learned to stop giggling like a four year old. You see, when something with a rubber seal is removed from a cunt, it makes a noise that is a cross between an airlock opening and the meatiest queef imaginable. It is absolutely hilarious, a loud fffPARP which I am sure was probably audible for miles around. If not, my laughter certainly was.

I had two minor incidents with the cup during my use of it, and both were attitubutable to human error. The first was removing the thing while drunk, with the hiccups. Hiccups, as it happen, affect the pelvic floor, making the task slightly more difficult: each time I had a good grip, I would hiccup and the cup would move itself back up again. With some good timing, I finally managed to get it out, and *hic*! The jolt caused a minor spillage.

The other incident was a morning removal. The cup had worked its way slightly further up than usual, and I Kegeled away. I may have Kegeled a little overenthusiastically, and it slipped out quicker than expected, cheerfully spilling an entire night’s contents of menses all over the floor, causing a scene reminiscent of one of those terrible torture-porn films.

Even after these accidents, though, I did not end up with blood on my hands. The cup does a brilliant job of catching everything, and the seal means that everything is inside the cup and nothing outside, on the bits that you touch. As long as one is not too squeamish about the sight of a small cup of blood, it is absolutely clean.

Will I use a cup again?

On the whole, absolutely. The minor accidents aside, it was very convenient. I often forget to bring tampons out with me, so end up spending a fortune on back up supplies. With a cup, there is no such issue here: it’s inside, and all it needs is emptying once in a while. It also seems to have a better capacity than tampons, and I have not seen anything about a risk of toxic shock.

Yes, it’s fiddly, but isn’t everything? Towels require alignment and faffing about with stickers. Applicator tampons are quite possibly the most confusing thing I have ever tried to use. Non-applicator tampons are fine, but require a bit of practice. And so does the cup.

I would say, this is probably not for you if you have any problems with touching your own cunt. It requires a lot of intimate handling. It is also not for anyone who dislikes the sight of blood.

I would consider myself a cup-convert. With a little practice, I think I can avoid the accidents. And if I ever need to write letters to politicians in menstrual blood, I am ready.


Dear Nadine Dorries

Dear Nadine Dorries,

I get the feeling you’re quite interested in other women’s uteruses, so I thought I’d tell you a bit about mine.

Today is the first day of my period and at the moment, it’s almost like a golden discharge. By the evening, it will be at its peak and a great red tide will flow from uterus to cunt, punctuated by small black blobs, like some sort of poorly-made anarcho-syndicalist flag. It will then tail off slowly, from red to rusty to brown, to nothing. By Saturday morning, it will be as though my womb were tranquil as the Dead Sea and it had never decided to eject its lining.

I’m telling you about my periods because that’s probably the most interesting thing my uterus has ever done. I don’t think I’ve ever been pregnant, but there was this one time when I missed a pill and my period was a bit more painful and lumpier than usual. So maybe I was a bit pregnant then and it fell out.

I hope, Nadine, that what my uterus does has been of interest to you. I hope that other women might like to tell you a little bit about what their womb have been up to lately. Perhaps that will satisfy your curious fascination with uteruses and provide you with a healthy outlet for your hobby, rather than letting you declare war on women’s choice.

I know you won’t stop at decreasing choice, using patronising faux-concern to protect the poor silly women from the big bad experts in crisis pregnancy. You’ve tried to reduce the abortion time limit several times, using lies and misleading information. You want control over our wombs. You’re obsessed with our wombs.

And that’s why I exercised my right to choose and told you about mine. I hope it makes you feel happy.

Yours, with insincere good wishes,
Stavvers

Update: I’ve decided to make this A Thing and sent this letter to Dorries. I strongly recommend you join me in this endeavour


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