Call me by my name: Woman

Sep 28


3 Responses


Helen Whitten

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Call me by my name: Woman

Why is the language that describes the adult female of our species being cancelled?  Even the medical magazine The Lancet had a heading recently reading “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of ‘bodies with vaginas’ have been neglected”.  ‘Bodies with vaginas’?  Don’t they mean women?  It’s women who have been neglected in medical research, and more.  After all, trans men and women are a very recent phenomenon.  The science didn’t exist in the past so there is no historical neglect there.  It is women they are talking about, so why can’t they use the correct word?

In an interview this weekend, Sir Keir Starmer said that it is “not right” to say only women have a cervix, amid the row surrounding the Labour MP Rosie Duffield questioning whether ‘individuals with a cervix’ could include trans men.  I am told by a doctor that a trans man, born a woman, will have a cervix if they have not had surgery, but that is because they have a woman’s body but are identifying as a man, therefore in biological fact are female.  Trans women, born a man, do not have a cervix, as the cervix is part of a womb, which they do not have as they are male.  Even if they have had surgery, the skin tissue grafted from the scrotum and other areas is biologically male. 

In all these scenarios, science dictates that humans are born male or female – males with XY chromosomes and females with XX chromosomes, and only a tiny proportion with XXY.  But these facts, and they are facts, are continually denied.  I was pleased to note that the Health Secretary Sajid Javid and others have attacked Starmer for a “total denial of scientific fact”.

How, in an era of science and technology, can so many people deny biological facts?  And where is the logic to say that should I support the use of the word woman, mother, breastfeeder rather than ‘chestfeeder’, that makes me transphobe?  I have nothing against trans men or women or anyone else but why should the integration of this group involve such an intrusion on the language that is used to describe women?

It seems to me that politicians are getting their proverbial knickers in a twist on the whole subject, as a Green Party spokesperson was recorded as saying that being a woman is “an attitude”.  And Jo Swinson, of the LibDems, when asked if humans are born either male or female, apparently replied “not from what I’ve read”.

It is all thoroughly disheartening and makes me feel both disenfranchised and unsupported.  In my view, of course it matters that men identifying as women should not be eligible to compete in all sports against biological women.  It’s totally unfair, as men are stronger.  Of course, I can understand that women who have been raped should be able to choose to be examined by a biologically female clinician.  Of course, I can understand that you don’t necessarily want someone in a female prison, or a girls’ changing room, or a woman’s domestic abuse refuge centre, who has a penis.  There is both a visceral but also a practical sense that this is risky.  Why should the sensitivities of trans groups, including trans sex offenders, trump female safety? 

And why are schools and other institutions altering their changing and toilet facilities to be mixed sex before there has been a proper debate about this?  The Equality Act 2010 permits services to be provided for one sex only.  The act is clear that it is lawful in certain circumstances to exclude members of the opposite sex, even if they hold a gender recognition certificate.  So why are these changes happening so quickly, and at a time when school children, girls in particular, are reporting a huge rise in sexual harassment experiences at or around schools?  Women and girls deserve safe spaces.

Of course, you can have a male body and feel like a woman psychologically, and vice versa.  And I empathise with those who feel they are in the wrong body or wish to identify and be treated as a specific sex but at the same time there is a need to accept the reality of the situation.  The biological facts.  I might have had plastic surgery to try to look like Marilyn Munroe, or breast enhancement, but I never would look like her, nor be her, nor would my breasts be biologically the same material as if they were naturally large.  And I don’t mean this frivolously.  I am suggesting that we tend to be happier in ourselves when we accept who we are and whether a trans man or woman has or hasn’t had surgery, they are nonetheless different biologically.  And why can’t that be ok?

We need to be honest and realistic for everyone’s sake, and especially in order to gather accurate data on sexual biology and illness.  Otherwise we cannot plan the health, education, employment and other infrastructure services we all need for the future.

The advances in science are fantastic.  We are able to keep people alive way beyond previous years, heal cancers, vaccine against sickness, and provide those who wish to transition from male to female or female to male with the wherewithal to do so.  And yet in all those situations there can also be ethical conundrums and they have to be worked out quietly and compassionately to ensure that everyone involved is on board.

It doesn’t help us all get along – and I presume that is what everyone wants – for this group to be cancelling our language and our identity as women.  Politicians like Starmer are colluding in the conspiracy to pretend that neither the cancelling of the language used to describe women, nor the invasion of our safe spaces, matters.  Nicola Sturgeon apparently said that women’s concerns on this issue are ‘not valid’.  But men are also writing on this subject, uncomfortable with the fact that they may have married a woman, or have a daughter, and wish to be able to refer to them in the correct terms.

If we are to get along better, then this will require devising some way that makes both trans men and women and biological men and women feel ok.  Because at the moment I am feeling offended and abused by the suggestion that calling myself a woman is in some way a ‘dog whistle’ (whatever that is, exactly).  And I am not that happy to be referred to as cis-woman either, as many people are utterly confused by that term too, including me!  I am a woman.

Women are not a series of orifices or physical attributes.  We are not ‘menstruators’, or ‘birthing people’, or ‘bodies with vaginas, cervixes’ or what you will.  We are women and we matter.  We are half the human population and have been treated pretty abysmally throughout history but have finally reached a reasonably equitable position in the West (cast your eye to Afghanistan and much of the rest of the world and you will see there is still a long way to go), so I wish to maintain this position for women in the future, particularly for my granddaughters.  But along comes another misogynistic group who seem to want to cancel us, put us back in the kitchen, relegate us to being a series of orifices rather than women.  It won’t do.

But who, among the political apologists, is going to stand up for women’s rights here, for our safe spaces, for our privacy, for our language?  It isn’t any of the politicians mentioned so far in this article.  It isn’t the NHS, who are issuing guidelines to midwives and others to remove the language previously associated with females, mothers, maternity units.  It isn’t the academics, as the universities are colluding with the non-facts propagated in this debate.  It isn’t the schools, as very young children are being given all kinds of lessons with very dubious biological details – in fact, a 9-year-old girl attending such a class earlier this year, came home thoroughly upset and confused, and asked her father whether she was a girl or a boy.  How on earth will they teach biology if a teacher can’t refer to a female or her ovaries, womb, cervix without somehow pretending that these are also the features of a trans women or men?

Joanne Cherry, QC, described this trend as deeply sinister.  I agree with her.  This is a form of aggression and an undermining of girls’ and women’s rights.   Time to find a way through this without the heated aggression of the Twitterati.  Please, please, can we have an adult debate on the subject to protect the safety, privacy needs, and identity status of girls and women?  And asking for such a debate does not mean that I am a transphobe. 


3 Responses

  1. Your blog is a call for action by both men and women to honour and understand their biological natures. We need to meet the needs of both sexes which are different. As an example separate private spaces including lavatories are necessary. The rush to merge to a unisex provision is misguided..

    As Simon Baron-Cohen writes: in “The Essential Difference: Male And Female Brains And The Truth About Autism”: ”the hope is that laying out what we understand about essential differences in the minds of men and women may lead to greater acceptance and respect of difference.”

  2. Quite. Weasly words coming from people who should have more guts.
    At a lesser level of irritation, but indicative of the general problem: this morning on Today a woman doctor talking about I think it was autism, could not bring herself to use the word female. Instead she talked about on the one hand ‘women and girls’ (repeatedly) but on the other ‘males’. I notice this ‘women and girls’ everywhere now, used instead of women or just females.

    “… Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.— Genesis 11:1–9

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