Defining WOMAN.

There is lots of talk about what “woman” means. It’s practically a cliche feminist topic! But the debate takes on new meaning in light of transsexuality’s destructive “gender” conservatism. Post-modern anti-essentialism seeks to dismiss the experience of womanhood by claiming that anyone can choose to be a woman and, in any case, we are too diverse to be generalized about. This is not true. Women are all subject to the tyranny of compulsory heterosexuality that dictates the sexual-ized behavior of humans according to the mutually exclusive classifications of “man” and “woman.” Women have shared life experiences as “girls” and as “women.” Radical feminist theory seeks to expose the ways in which trans theory, like patriarchal reality, denies female self-determination and imposes upon women their own false (read: male-serving) definition OF “woman.”

It’s one thing to change the spelling of a word in protest of its etymological implications; it’s quite another to have to qualify a term that has been co-opted by your oppressor to mean something that better serves his purposes. For example, WOMYN or WIMMIN is used by radfems to indicate that wo-men are not merely a variation on the default “man.” Women have distinctive experiences; our existence constitutes something entirely separate from that of “man” or “men’s experiences.” Women are not merely the inverse of men, nor their compliment. The feminist re-spelling of “woman” reflects a recenter-ing of the subject towards herself. By contrast, I am incredibly tired of having to say woman-born-woman or natal woman or FAAB in order to satisfy those who repurpose “woman” to serve themselves.

In my experience, as a woman mind you, common usage dictates that “woman” is a synonym for mature female human. Girl, another synonym for female, is also commonly used in conversational speech. To be sure, this is how we identify the sex of human infants: girl or boy.

So what do non-female-assigned persons want with the term “woman”? Maybe woman means something more or less than simply “mature female human”? Possibly “woman” is simply the result of compulsory heterosexuality’s social conditioning? To the extent that compulsory heterosexuality is ubiquitous, females in different cultures are exposed to infinite variations on the universal theme of femininity as complimentary/oppositional to masculinity. In response, are females formed or molded into socially functioning “women”? Does woman refer to socialization, rather than reproductive functioning?Oh yes, let’s ask trans politics!! Naturally.A story came up in my Facebook news feed a few days back about “a woman who is intersex.” It seemed a little awkward, so I wondered, how is this different than “an intersexed woman”? Does it tell us whether she chose the I-dentity “woman” or whether it was assigned to her at birth in connection with a medical determination of “female”?? I can’t tell for sure, but let’s assume for the moment that it implies the former, as consistent with TRANS usage/hi-jacking of the term “woman.” Trans woman — as contrasted with natal woman — means a male-assigned-at-birth (MAAB) human who subsequently internalized and aligned himself so intensely with the results of being female, aka “womanhood,” that he seeks to be treated as a female is treated. He does so by applying the term “woman” to himself, despite the fact that he has not experienced the female conditioning of compulsory heterosexuality from birth.

By hijacking the word “woman,” trans ideology seeks to erase or invisibilize the presumption of female-ness that constitutes the core criteria informing the word itself. Trans reduce the word WOMAN to a social construct and identity — one that they can appropriate at will, have socially and politically supported merely on their word, and then legitimized legally in a relatively short time (usually just 2 years). For trans, it is not a contradiction for a MAAB to adopt the term “woman” and the often-repeated mantra of the community is “trans women ARE women.”

In this sense, gendered signs have a kind of performative quality. They make the vagina into a she, and they make a person who executes the gender cues correctly and articulately into a woman. This social fact is evidenced by a cultural phenomenology in which one’s true sex is merely evidenced, not constituted, by the genital that is physically present, and a legal rule of evidence by which the genital is regarded as probative, but by no means dispositive or irrebuttable evidence of one’s true sex. It is the cultural genital, the metaphoric “something extra,” the presence of which is proven by the signs of gender, that makes a woman and makes a man and that cannot be rebutted by physical facts to the contrary.

Katherine M. Franke, The Central Mistake of Sex Discrimination Law: The Disaggregation of Sex From Gender, 144 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1, page? (1995)

If gender performativity creates “man” and “woman,” then it can also taketh away. So what does this mean about butch women? What does it mean about non-feminine or even anti-feminine women? Apparently, they are “men” despite physical facts to the contrary. This implicitly denies the both possibility and current reality of non-feminine women and explicitly erases their experience. These women no longer exist! Obviously, such a framing is both false and misogynistic.

Let’s return now to the “woman who is intersexed” that I mentioned above. Because she is not reproductively “female,” she may initially seem to present a problem analogous to that of the so-called “trans woman.” However, despite the intersexed person’s reproductive capacity or specific genital configuration, the tyranny of compulsory heterosexuality prescribes female-assigned social development from infancy. If anything can create the state of being a “woman,” it is the process of being groomed from birth to make oneself sexually and socially compatible with males/men. This definition of “woman” is inclusive of both intersexed and feminine-non-conforming females. So to the extent that “woman” is not strictly synonymous with a specific normative physical state, intersexed humans treated as a female from birth present a distinctly separate situation from that of “trans women.”

Trans women are simply MAABs who have volunteered to adopt the mask of femininity through performativity, then demanded use of the social labels associated with the experiences of the female-assigned-at-birth humans. Born-women have no choice about their role in the play of compulsory heterosexuality; it is simply expected of us. Further, the so-called “trans woman’s” life experience is fundamentally distinct from natal women’s experiences in both breadth and depth. To refuse the relevancy and legitimacy of these specific experiential differences between women and “trans women” is to redefine “womanhood” to better serve male purposes. It shows blatant disregard and disrespect for the experiences and realities women who have lived as women and girls from their first breaths. It is misogyny, pure and simple.

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61 comments
  1. tiptree2 (vliet) said:

    This is a brilliant discussion, and I don’t feel competent to enter, but oh well, I can’t resist. There is so much here and my mind is boggled. Just one thing. The question this thread raises is, what is a woman/female? How can we find out? How can we divest/disentangle/shuck off the roles thrust (haha!) upon women in order to study us as we would be outside a patriarchal/male dominated system?

    It seem to me that our essential nature remains a mystery. We have an essential nature and it is qualitatively different from male existence. We all feel the fact of difference, and it is marked enough and somehow threatening enough to males that they base their entire hierarchical system on our backs. That is the basic tenet of radical feminism as I understand it, and I’m working from that in my thinking and always returning to it.

    To move forward we have to fully develop a psychology of women, a history of women, an understanding and definition of women that is not defined solely by our differences from our adversaries. These include men who wish to perform as female social constructs, as well as men in general. I include transwomen as adversaries because I see that lacking the developmental socialization of women, as discussed above, on the one hand, and the actual physiology of women, on the other, transwomen are not women.

    Women of today live in social conditions unimaginable in either the past or the future. Many aspects or issues of “womanhood” won’t exist in a hundred years. These include the physical and social disabilities of childbirth (outside uteruses will become common), financial dependence on men (already a reality for some women), individual physical vulnerability to men (just requires a change of attitude and a group decision to fight back – weapons are available, all we need is the will)(group vulnerability is a different problem). What will the woman of the future be like? She will be closer to a woman than we can be (since we can’t help but be impacted by our socialization) and the definition will be clearer.

    Meantime, we can hypothesize about this “freewoman”. I have this feeling that our energy to do so is being vampirically sucked away, though, by our using as a basis what we are NOT – that is, for instance, men who have had medical treatment to look more like women, or who act like women. When I consider the proportion of our time being spent on this issue, considering that we women are more than two billion suffering souls and that transwomen are…how many?…I can only think that we should take a strong, unrelenting, clear stand about this issue and move on. To do so brings us to a deeper and more constructive issue we must deal with, as this thread brings up. How do we speak as one? Who are “we”? How do we take stands as a group, including setting forth our working definitions of women?

    I have been out of the war for a long while, but I’m in now. Looking at the last 30 years I do see the powerful forces that have mobilized against us slowly and surely, using weapons such as whittling at our own definition of who we are, ridiculing our legitimacy, and subverting us expertly in many other ways. I kind of see radical feminism as being the Terminator-Woman. She keeps on moving ahead as all the parasites, bombs, and vampires fall around her. Her girl-clothes burn away and she is a shining essential thing, still moving ahead, eyes on the goal.

  2. FCM said:

    Her girl-clothes burn away and she is a shining essential thing, still moving ahead, eyes on the goal.

    i love this image! thanks!

    i dont think we need a “working definition of woman” though, any more than anyone ever considers that we need one for men. women are female-bodied adult human beings. no more, and no less. and this has never changed, and it never will: even with “outside uterii” if such a horrible thing is ever created (BY MEN) the children gestated in them will still be either male or female wont they? in any case, they always have been, and they will continue to be so for a long long time. we need to stay focused and cognizant of that, always. women are female-bodied, and we are born that way, and THIS is the genesis of our shared plight, as women as a sexual class, around the world.

  3. vliet (tiptree2) said:

    Ach, all very true, FCM. These are huge topics: reproductive technology, selective gender birth, essential sex differences, how to frame our situation, how to prioritize…I’m uncomfortably aware that I’m not really well-informed enough yet to go farther, so I’ll go back to reading for a bit…thank you for your blog, FCM, it is amazing.

  4. These are important questions to ask. The “essential woman,” a being who exists outside of social conditions cannot be known. So we cannot assume the inherency of any sexed behavioral or expressive characteristics. At the same time, there are undeniable reproductive consistencies caused by being born with certain body parts and organs. I agree with FCM that the state of having a female body is how we define feminism’s SUBJECT. Having a female body is the source of our female reproductive vulnerability. AND. having female genitalia at birth tracks us into the feminine gender and all the sex-ualization that it requires of “woman.” This is what women share, presently. So that’s what I’m interested in.

    I don’t think having weapons will negate our reproductive vulnerability. It may keep us free from sexual violation, but that is differenent than NOT being vulnerable. I don’t want a SOLUTION to reproductive vulnerability, its not a problem. Humans have all kinds of physical vulnerabilities for which many of us do not carry weapons or wear helmets. Sexual *violation* of female bodies is the problem that needs a solution. I’m also not excited about the idea of uteruses outside the body! The thought of such a dependence on medical technology is disturbing to me. Nature does it best! Thats my view, but if anyone else wants to debate the value of reproductive technology, I’m willing to discuss!

  5. Oh, and vliet (tiptree2), I realize you didn’t use the word “solution.” I was only speaking to that argument about female vulnerability, I didn’t mean to attribute it to you specifically!

  6. Milly said:

    “I don’t want a SOLUTION to reproductive vulnerability, it’s not a problem”. Hear, hear UP. By that logic we’d need a solution to childhood as well. Athena anyone?

  7. Ahahaa! Thanks, Milly. Yes, I don’t like the argument that any vulnerability is a PROBLEM. Even if it’s one that only female suffer from! Even if!! The fact that I don’t have an exoskelton is a vulnerability, but it’s not a PROBLEM. It would only BE a problem if someone where trying to actively attack my soft, fleshy skin. The fact that I don’t wear a helmet 24/7 is a only a “problem” when faced with an imminent danger to my skull’s integrity– like my body in fast motion moving toward concrete, or speeding down a snow covered mountain in skis. So vulnerability does not necessarily amount to a PROBLEM. Again, the “problem” would be the circumstances giving rise to the need for “protection.”

  8. Reblogged this on FeistyAmazon and commented:
    Nice article and one I want to.pull up.everytime theres a debate on the meaning of “woman” and who is and is not one.

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