#IStandwithJKR is the new #MeToo. It is the continuation of women speaking up about our distinctly biological female experiences.
Globally, some countries still experience norms of female infanticide, FGM, child marriages, forced pregnancy, period poverty, menstrual huts, surrogacy camps, being killed by one’s family for being raped, lack of access to abortion, sexual violence, pay gap, etc. WE WANT TO CHANGE IT!
I stand with JK Rowling in the protection of the accurate biological language that women use to describe these uniquely female experiences. I also stand for the protection of women’s SEX BASED RIGHTS to single sex space and sports.
I capitalize here to emphasize that the historical exploitation and oppression of women is based on our reproductive capacity, our sex. It deeply saddens me that in the wake of #MeToo the observable, functional, and experiential category of biological sex is somehow up for debate. Women are being vilified, receiving targeted harassment, violent threats, and hate simply for speaking about the reality of existing while female. It was just a few years ago that women collectively rallied together to decry sexual assault, harassment, and rape. It was like a dam had burst and suddenly women who had long been silent were sharing their stories of the violence perpetrated against our sex. I was one of them. #MeToo. I shared my own story of rape.
Just as I shared my #MeToo story at the time, I am now going to share some of my personal story that has lead me to #IStandWithJKR. This will hopefully ground the reader in my personal experience and help to clarify the foundation on which my observations are built. I would like to take a moment now to share the aftermath of my rape.
I remember pushing the elevator button but it wouldn’t come fast enough. I feared my attacker would change his mind about letting me go so I ran down the eight flights of stairs. The first thing I did was run to the drug store on the corner. You see, my rapist hadn’t worn a condom. The florescent lights inside the Duane Reade were glaring. I felt as if I was in some foreign bazaar, people were speaking but their words bounced off me, I did not have the awareness to take them in. In a haze, I purchased condoms and spermicide, because NEVER AGAIN. Never again would I be caught without condoms. And the spermicide…
I hailed a cab and fell inside, shaking. I was numb and scared, but I opened the tube of spermicide and squeezed the whole thing inside me. If the taxi driver saw, he didn’t care, and neither did I. All I knew is that I wanted to kill anything my rapist had left inside me. My first thought after being raped, was to fear pregnancy. I could not simply go home and shower and curl up in a ball, I had to grapple with the fact that I had a female body that could now be potentially pregnant.
I lived the following days in a stupor, but I managed to make appointments at a clinic to take a pregnancy test and to be tested for HIV. I worried what I would do if I was pregnant. I knew I would get an abortion, but I worried how I would pay, and I feared the abortion procedure. It felt terrifying to think of having my legs spread in stirrups with strangers prodding and sucking at my insides after I had already been raped.
My story is a uniquely female experience. Yes, I do know that males can be raped, no one should be raped. Rape is bad enough, but fearing pregnancy and abortion and having to deal with those worries in the aftermath of rape is just compounded trauma. Males do not fear forced pregnancy, nor do they fear abortion, or lack of access to abortion.
A few years later, #MeToo erupted and the world was flooded with women’s stories — our shared outrage and solidarity. I felt proud and relieved to share my own story, there was something releasing about not having to carry around the weight of that secret. The Woman’s March that year was insanely huge and many made pussy hats to show our solidarity with one another. I posted something on the Women’s March Facebook page having to do with pussy hats. I was told by a number of transwomen that pussy hats were transphobic. At first I was just baffled so I pressed on saying that clearly women speaking about and representing their own bodies on a WOMAN’S MARCH page was not transphobic. How could a vagina be transphobic? We went back and forth for a couple of rounds, them insisting that pussy hats and talking about vaginas excluded transwomen and me insisting that there is no better place to speak about women’s anatomy than a Woman’s March. The next day I received a number of facebook messages that included all my personal information; they even had found the phone number of my father’s work. Of course these messages also included threats and insults. They told me that my information had been distributed and threatened me to be silent. To be clear, men (males who identify as transwomen) who didn’t like what I was saying threatened me with violence and targeted me for harassment. #MeToo was about calling out male violence against women. But somehow if males do this under the name of the trans umbrella, then it’s okay?
I regret that I did not speak out then. But I was earnestly scared.
At the time, I was upset, but also confused. I remained confused about how speaking about my own body could be not only called “transphobic”, but also make me into a target for harassment and hate. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me — I had always been a supporter of LGBT rights. In my work as a theater educator, it was my passion to help kids express their unique selves, to help them write and create plays to express their own concerns in their own voices. When I worked with kids, I always tried to offer them ways to be uniquely themselves. I said things to them like, “Cloth is just fabric, and fabric is gender neutral” or “Makeup is just face paint, and face paint is gender neutral.” I encouraged them to not get stuck in the cultural scripts of “pink is for girls/blue is for boys.” I wanted them to be able to express themselves freely.
This is a value I have always held.
I was raised in a fundamentalist christian household where I was taught that women were made to be submissive to men. I struggled with this teaching and never did manage to be submissive. I was raised with regressive sexist gender roles projected on me because of my female body. I have long rejected the prescriptions of gender. I fought to stake the claim that my body is NOT A GENDER. My body is simply the material form in which I exist. My body happens to be female but being female is not a fate. By this I mean it is not a social role that I am destined to fulfill simply because I have a particular body. I refuse to have roles projected onto my body. I simply exist in my body, and my body has a certain reproductive capacity.
Bodies are not fates or destinies. Anyone with a male/female body has the freedom to uniquely express themselves. But although bodies are not destinies, they do inform our experiences. We are always embodied. There is no universe of experience outside the lived location of our bodies. Our bodies are a site of meaning-making.
The body is the first and only location through which we perceive the world.
- This is to say, every experience we have is mediated through our physical body.
Our bodies necessarily influence our perceptions.
- This is to say our physical experience is always influencing us. For example, when I am having heavy period cramps, I might have less patience with people because I am in physical discomfort.
The daily needs of the body require our attention and involvement.
- This is to say, whether it is brushing the hair from our eyes, going to the bathroom, or feeling hungry, we are in a constant state of attending to our body’s needs.
We cannot perceive the world outside of this intimate involvement with our body in which we are constantly engaged.
- This is to say there is no objective place where we can think ourselves outside of our bodies. We are always subjectively and particularly situated and engaged with our bodies.
When speaking of sex bodies in a practical scientific way, the terms woman/man are biological descriptors. They are NEUTRAL terms that describe the developmental pathway that one’s body has taken. We have similar neutral terms that we use for male/female animals:
These terms DESCRIBE. They should not PRESCRIBE.
In other words, these terms should be used only to DESCRIBE biological functions, but they should not PRESCRIBE gender roles onto sexed bodies. However we live in a culture which does exactly that.
Feminists have historically taken issue with these projections of gender roles. Some historical examples of gendered roles that women have rejected include “a woman’s place is in the home,” “women shouldn’t vote because mental exertion jeopardizes reproductive health,” “women have inferior brains and are not suited to public office,” or that “women are naturally submissive.” All these are gendered roles that have been used against women throughout history. Feminists want to abolish this gender hierarchy where men are seen as strong and women as weak, where men are seen as dominant and women are seen as submissive, where men as seen as the subject and women are seen as the object.
Part of this hierarchy is also upheld through beauty myths and prescriptions such as shaving, makeup, heels, and clothing that are constrictive and revealing. The fashion industry is a billion dollar industry that is constantly at work grooming women to present in certain ways. Feminists have written books dedicated to the critique of how unrealistic beauty myths impact the lived experience of girls and women. Indulging in makeup or shaving are not evil in and of themselves, but they are harmful when they are set up as a gender role or as being natural to women.
Throughout history we have always had those who do not conform to the culturally prescribed gender roles. From women like Joan of Arc, George Sands, Grace Slick, and Annie Lennox, and men like Edward Hyde, David Bowie, Prince, and Ru Paul, it’s great that some men and women are bold enough to go against cultural prescriptions. These actions help make the disparity in the stereotypes projected onto men and women more visible. These nonconformists help to break down the hierarchy of sex based gender roles. Those who are “gender bending” also help dismantle the cultural scripts by creating new scripts for all of us to witness and engage with.
Gender nonconformists help us to SMASH these roles altogether and RECLAIM the neutral words for what they are. These people remind us that being born male or female is not a fate or a destiny, that the words man and woman can apply to people who act, dress, or look like all kinds of things. The fact of these nonconformists being “men” or “women” was for them, just a matter of biology, while their expression, passion, creativity, vocation, could be anything they imagined.
Today, some gender nonconforming males call themselves transwomen and repeat the mantra “trans women are women.” When these male nonconformists reject the word “man” outright, let us think of why. Man is just a biological descriptor, right? It is a neutral term describing bodily organs and functions. So when nonconforming males reject the word “man”, their rejection of that label actually reveals that they believe in the dogma of gender prescriptions culturally projected onto the term “man.” It is these prescriptions that they reject. Maybe they reject hyper masculinity, macho culture, dominance, or the myth that “boys don’t cry.” But instead of being angry that there are gender prescriptions projected onto the word “man”, they accept that gender prescriptions are synonymous with the word. So instead of simply rejecting the prescriptions alone, they reject the word “man” along with them. They then exchange one set of gender prescriptions, the ones projected onto the term “man,” with the prescriptions that are projected onto the word “woman.”
Again, by only rejecting the LABEL, and not rejecting GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS themselves, “nonconforming” males are actually accepting that gender roles are innate to men/women instead of being just a cultural script.
When gender nonconforming males reject the label “man” in favor of the label “woman” they are revealing an underlying belief that these words are not neutral descriptors of function, but that they actually signify gendered behavior.
The labels MAN and WOMAN should simply communicate information about the way that an individual’s body is organized with respect to the sexual reproductive process. It’s unnecessary and harmful to attach gender roles to these functional labels.
Males who call themselves “women” because they present in hyper-feminine ways, reinforce the mistaken notion that WOMAN is a gender role. They reinforce a narrow hierarchy of gender. They trade one box for another: the MAN BOX, for the WOMAN BOX.
But heads up, women don’t like our box either! We’re trying to smash it.
More bricks are added to the church of gender hierarchy every time a gender nonconforming male starts promoting the idea that there is a way to
Look like…a “woman.”
This notion reinforces gender prescriptions projected onto the label “woman,” as well as prescriptions projected onto women’s bodies. It chains the word “woman” to a set of behaviors and actions. Again, rather than allowing the label to simply be a neutral word describing function, gender nonconforming males who repeat the dogma “transwomen are women” reinforce the label “woman” as a gender role.
From a purely physical standpoint, males don’t know what it physically feels like to exist in a female body. Males, being eternally trapped in male bodies, have no way of accessing female bodies, thus they can’t understand any of the functions and sensations of female bodies. So when they say they “feel like women” they can only be referring to the gendered stereotypes associated with the label “woman.”
But women (like me) have rejected gender roles projected onto our bodies our whole lives.
Gender-rejecting women (like me) are struggling against culture to insist that, in fact, there is no way to “act like, dress like, behave like, or look like” a woman.
There are nearly 4 billion women on the planet, how could there be a universal way that we act, dress, behave, or appear?! The ONLY universal thing about us is the way our bodies are organized in the reproductive process. Women wish to break prescribed gender roles associated with our sex and be free to act, dress, behave, and look however we wish.
To smash culturally projected gender roles, we need gender nonconforming humans to begin rejecting the idea that gender roles are culturally PRESCRIBED and PROJECTED onto sexed bodies. We need people to stand up to these gender roles and denounce them as false narratives that restrict freedom.
We need to SMASH these roles altogether and RECLAIM the neutral words for what they are.
The words MAN/WOMAN refer to sexed bodies — defined through one of two reproductive anatomies organized to support either sperm or eggs. These words are not ROLES. As a man or a woman there is no way to “act,” “dress,” “behave,” or “look like” these words because these words describe reproductive anatomies (FUNCTION.) The projected gender roles are hindering our ability to use the words as neutral language. Again, that is why we need to SMASH these roles altogether and RECLAIM the neutral words for what they are.
In order to smash the gender hierarchy and abolish gender altogether we need to quit PRESCRIBING ROLES onto words that DESCRIBE FUNCTION.
In order to smash the MAN BOX/WOMAN BOX, we need to reclaim science and the neutral meaning of these words.
In humans, woman/man are terms for female/male. These words are just functional. They are just as neutral as the terms
They refer to sexual function in the reproductive process. That is all.
To be clear this is not a denial of trans identities. Although I reject gender and wish for its abolition, I also believe that every man/woman is free to express whatever gender identity they choose. As well, dysphoria is a real condition. But men cannot understand what it’s like to be female, no matter what is or isn’t happening in their brains.
Being female is PHYSICAL, FUNCTIONAL, and EXPERIENTIAL. Males can never understand what it is like to exist in a female body. Females face sex based oppression because of our BODIES, not our BRAINS.
I refuse to cede the biological meaning of the word woman: ADULT HUMAN FEMALE.
Any male using the word woman to describe his cultural nonconformance is reducing the word “woman” to a gender stereotype.
Woman is not a gender role, identity, or a way of behaving. Woman is simply the word that describes my physical experience on the planet.
#IStandwithJKR is the new #MeToo. It is women speaking up about our specifically female experiences.