I’m a feminist, but…

I’m a feminist, but (in true Guilty Feminist style) I feel that I need to explain what that means to me, as there is no consensus regarding the term.

Feminism, to me, is the stance that all humans are equal and should therefore have equal rights and access to services. It approaches the fight from a history of the suppression of these rights and access over the years to people identified as ‘women’.

Why have I put ‘women’ in quotes (just regular ones, not scare quotes). Well that’s because the term ‘woman/women’ has become more nuanced and complicated over the years.

It used to be that sex=gender and there were only two option (woman/female or man/male) and that was it. But the turtle moves and it is now (mostly) accepted that sex (which looks at the physical anatomy of an individual’s reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics) is different from gender (which is a social construct based on roles, behaviours, activities, etc).

At this point I want to apologise if I inadvertently cause someone offence by using the wrong terminology. If I do so, please understand it is an error and I would welcome the opportunity to learn to correct myself if I do offend and if someone has the time and energy to correct me.

Now, back to sex and gender. If we agree, and I hope that we do, that sex and gender are not the same thing (the first being biological, the second social), then it does not end there. Neither sex nor gender are binary, though some would seem to want them to be. Looking at sex first, whilst typically mammals (including humans) carrying XY chromosomes are labelled ‘male’ and those carrying XX chromosomes are labelled ‘female’ this is not a cut-and-dried, black-and-white, situation. An infant’s sex at birth is generally assigned by the midwife/doctor/nurse attending the birth after an examination of their genitalia. This may or may not match the infant’s chromosomes, hormones, other physical characteristics, etc. and in these situations this is typically (currently) labelled as ‘intersex’. So on the sex front it could be considered that there is a scale that at one end has female, goes through intersex, and terminates at male (going alphabetically, because that makes as much sense as any), not two boxes into which each individual must be crammed (cutting off appendages sometimes if deemed ‘necessary’). An individual may be anywhere on this scale.

On to gender. Again, the most recent prevailing view (historically and in some countries this is not the case) is that there are only two genders: the feminine and the masculine. Now, gender being socially constructed has even more scope for fluidity and confusion in understanding precisely because it is a social construct. It looks at the behaviours and attributes that a society determines to relate to the sex an individual is assigned at birth. This can obviously vary between and within societies as well as over time and geography. Since it is a social construct there is no reason why there should only be two genders, and slowly there has been more acceptance of gender fluidity and people identifying as gender neutral (or no gender).

So what does this have to do with feminism?

Well, as I said at the beginning:

Feminism, to me, is the stance that all humans are equal and should therefore have equal rights and access to services. It approaches the fight from a history of the suppression of these rights and access over the years to people identified as ‘women’.

The key part there being ‘people identified as ‘women”. The vast majority of discrimination relating to sex and gender is actually focused on the gender representation of an individual (since most people don’t go around checking genitalia, hormones or chromosomes before they start discriminating). In championing women’s rights through feminism I therefore include anyone who represents themselves as female regardless of the sex that they were assigned at birth when I use the word ‘woman’. I mention this because there has been a disturbing (to me) trend in some sections of feminism (I’m looking at you Germaine Greer) to only include those determined at birth to be female. This, obviously, excludes anybody intersex, transgender, gender fluid, gender neutral, and so on.

I do not see the benefit in using such a narrow, exclusionary, definition of what a woman is. What harm does it do to seeking equal rights and access to services for all people to include those who are subject to some of the worst discrimination? For me, if it isn’t intersectional then it isn’t something I want to fight for. 100 years ago some women (and more men) got the right to vote, but the fight for equal rights to vote didn’t stop there but continued to include all.

I say this from a position of incredible privilege. I have white, heterosexual, cis, middle class, able-bodied, home owning, well educated, and many other privileges. If it weren’t for the fact that I identify as female I would practically be the patriarchy.

I am also lucky enough not to have been the victim of domestic violence, which I mention because one of the arguments for women-only spaces are DV refuges. The vast majority of victims of domestic violence are people who identify as women at the hands of people who identify as men (though not exclusively). It has therefore been proposed that domestic violence refuges should be women-only on a sex (rather than gender) basis. Whilst it is important that the men who physically assault women should not be able to access those women, it does not follow that the people working in such refuges should only be women-by-sex-at-birth, or that only women-by-sex-at-birth should have access to the services. Instead security should be put in place to prevent those specific perpetrators from accessing those specific victims. Transwomen face the same, if not greater, dangers as women-by-sex. It is good to see that bans on transgender staff at women’s refuges are being overturned.

But does this is a fairly extreme example. It is common to hear someone suggest that a woman request a female doctor if they would feel more comfortable regarding an issue or procedure. I am all for people feeling comfortable when accessing any services (particularly with things like therapy after experiencing violence), but why is is considered acceptable to make a request based on gender (since I doubt the patient will check whether the medical professional is female-by-sex-at-birth, only that they present as female)? Is it similarly acceptable to make a request based on race or sexuality? I think we need to think more deeply about the lessons we are teaching women when making such suggestions, and by presenting DV refuges as women-by-sex-at-birth only.

One medical professional should be interchangeable with any other regardless of their sex, gender, race, sexuality, etc. Personally I don’t care what genitalia my doctor, dentist, or the person using the toilet cubicle next to me is. It very rarely comes up as any sort of issue in my day-to-day life. It does, however, run the risk of treating all women as to be trusted and all men as to be unsafe, when in reality any individual may be safe or unsafe.

The only time, in my opinion, when sex is relevant (as opposed to gender) is for certain medical issues, which should only ever come up between the patient and their medical professional (so Germaine Greer can sod off). Weirdly it still persists as a binary issue in sport (though huzzah for the AFL agreeing that Hannah Mouncey can play in the women’s leagues), and (it being awards season) award ceremonies such as the Oscars which has Best Actor and Best Actress but only one aware for Best Director (if you’re going to double up on the acting awards then why not double up on all?).

So, in conclusion, who cares what genitalia an individual has? If you don’t have equal rights or access to services, then I want my feminism to fight for those rights and access for you. I don’t care what your sex-at-birth is/was, I don’t care what your race is, your social status, your sexuality, etc.. And when I wear my feminist mittens, those Venus symbols are intended to include everyone who wants to claim them (and a pussy hat is so named because it looks like a cat). Include, don’t exclude. It is isn’t intersectional, it isn’t worth doing.

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