Fallopian tube (Photo by Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library)
Artillery Row

The deconstruction of women

Don’t misuse biology to hide the nature of sex

Last week the UK government rejected a proposal to make menopause a protected characteristic in the Equality Act. A report from the Women and Equalities Select Committee last July, concerning menopause and the workplace, identified significant evidence for adding menopause to the list of protected characteristics in order to prevent discrimination. The ministers’ reason for blocking the proposal was that there may be unintended consequences which might lead to inadvertent discrimination against men with long term health conditions. 

I don’t doubt that this might be a problem, and I am happy that the issue was explored thoroughly before a conclusion was reached. However, I have different reasons for rejecting the idea — and I do reject it, even though it might have once worked to my benefit. The EA as it stands protects nine distinct characteristics from discrimination. Two of them you might say already encompass women and the menopause: sex and age. Menopause only affects one of the sexes, and it only affects women of a certain age, so the existing legislation could well be used in discrimination cases which involve menopausal women. 

My objection is more to do with taking menopause as a biological process and categorising it as a stand-alone characteristic removed from its association with a female human being. We already do this with pregnancy and childbirth of course, which has its own protected characteristic, and you could argue this as a special case. Generally though, I think this kind of disassociation should be avoided, for the reason that we are currently living through a time where biological processes and body parts are being removed from the humanising category of “woman” and separated into singular entities to an alarming degree, none of which benefits women. We should be alert to anything which adds to this trend. 

Body parts are now treated like a weird anomaly floating in space

Organisations such as cancer charities are increasingly reluctant to use the word “woman”, preferring instead phrases like “people with a cervix”. Manufacturers of period products refer to women and girls as “bleeders” and the NHS talks of “pregnant people” lest it should inadvertently offend someone by associating pregnancy with women. Body parts and bodily functions are now treated like some sort of weird anomaly floating in space rather than being seen as an intrinsic part of being female. The Jersey Government recently put out a tweet promoting its cervical screening service, in which it appealed to “a transgender man, a gender non-conforming person or assigned female at birth and with a cervix”. The words “man” and “person” are allowable but not the word “woman”. Male people are also still routinely referred to as “men” in the prostate cancer ads, presumably because they inexplicably remain human even when their biology lets them down. 

The separation of body parts and bodily functions from their female human owners both contribute to a dehumanisation of women and girls. This makes exploitation easier. It’s always been there in the sex trade, where body parts are rented out and used with no concern for the humanity of the women they belong to. The same is true of the current trend towards normalising surrogacy, where the word “surrogate” is preferred to the phrase “surrogate mother” lest the connection between a mother and her child awkwardly reminds you of the humanity of both. 

This sleight of hand with language pertaining to women and girls is not new: reading the Brighton Allsorts “trans-inclusive” school toolkit back in 2013, the first thing that struck me was the subtle dehumanisation of girls — the better to promote the rights of another group over them. It was achieved simply by not using the word “girls”. Instead, after a sympathetic approach to the struggles of children referred to as “trans” and many appeals to uphold the sanctity of their “gender identity”, girls were then referred to as “cisgender females”. It’s clear why. The word “girls” might remind you that these are young human beings, and your sympathy might be compromised. 

The word “female” is not offensive in and of itself, but it is a biological category which encompasses animals as well as humans. If we need to distinguish ourselves from animals, we need the words “women” and “girls”. These are the words that humanise us. When we are dehumanised, by use of language which avoids the humanising words and makes us a collection of body parts and functions, it is easier to abuse us and deny us our rights. 

I believe this is what is happening on a large scale right now. Politicians bully women for sharing their perspective of what it means to be a woman in this world and pose proudly with the most violent and misogynistic protesters against women’s rights. To put it mildly, there is a lack of sympathy on display. The acronym TERF is only the most visible attempt to dehumanise women, but it is certainly a powerful addition to the arsenal. The politicians posing in front of a banner demanding that we “Decapitate TERFs” must surely have misplaced their collective humanity. 

The trans lobby to some extent relies on making women less than human

When a convicted double rapist is treated with more understanding and sympathy by our system than the women voicing concerns about male violence, something has gone badly wrong. The trans lobbyists seem to have won this round: they have joined in with our old enemies, the pimps and the pornographers, to split women apart into usable chunks in order to appease a tiny population of men who want to be women but who don’t have the biology. They have refused us the right to our language and our perception of ourselves, and they have influenced powerful men (and some women) who have forgotten that women and girls are human beings, let alone human beings who deserve rights. 

I don’t think menopausal women should be discriminated against, but — and I never thought I’d be fighting for this — menopause is ours: it belongs to women; it is the natural result of being a woman and growing older. It’s not a floating category which anyone can claim. We have sat by and experienced our bodies being picked apart and our biology being either hyper-sexualised or de-sexed altogether. We have seen the people who benefit from this. These people are not women and will never be women. 

The voices drowned out in the recent Scottish GRR reform bill consultation were the ones warning about the consequences of blurring the boundaries between human beings and their biological reality. It’s no coincidence that these were mostly women’s voices: divorce biology from the word that makes us human, and we lose some of our humanity. The trans lobby, like the sex industry lobby it is so closely aligned with, to some extent relies on making women less than human, so it then becomes easier to strip everything of value from us. 

We shouldn’t be giving menopause a protected characteristic of its own. We should be thinking instead about truly honouring the protected characteristic of sex, with all the implications which that has for human safety, privacy and dignity. We need to remember why it’s there in the first place and reinstate the novel idea of standing up for women’s equality, warts and all. 

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