What Makes a Woman?

7th December 2022

In a recent article, I talked about the (not so) difficult question of gender, and that, in spite of how modern we believe our society is, there are still so many who believe they must conform to archaic gender binaries and roles.

But it seems that a certain author and so-called “Feminist” is at it again, and so I feel the need now to address the more specific topic of what “women” really are.

In case you weren’t sure who I was referring to above, it’s J.K. Rowling, world-renowned author of the Harry Potter series (among other works), and proud TERF — a trans-exclusionary radical Feminist. What this descriptor means is that she, like many others, uses the Feminist movement as a horrendously flimsy veil for her blatant transphobia, saying that transgender people (especially trans women) are a threat to cisgender women, and even implying that trans women only are “this way” so that they can impose a threat on others.

Obviously, this is ridiculous. Especially since not a single static exists that can faithfully prove this notion.

Recently, Rowling tweeted that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon (who is currently trying to improve lives of transgender people in Scotland through the Gender Recognition Reform Bill) “remains determined to undermine the sex-based rights of Scottish girls and women”. Essentially, Rowling is arguing that this bill undoes the work of the Feminist movement by allowing anyone who may not biologically be a woman to identify as such. In reality, however, this bill merely proposes a system of self-declaration for obtaining a gender-recognition certificate (GRC), thus removing the need for the incredibly dehumanising process that so many transgender people need to go through. The current process is comprised of psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the challenge of permanently living in their gender for two years before being able to actually apply for a GRC, and having to wait until they are 18 (past the age of puberty, when many bodily changes become increasingly hard to suppress or reverse) before they are actually even able to consider applying for this.

Rowling is someone who is drowning in privilege. That doesn’t deny whatever past struggles she may have had, but she is still a cis-het, white person, with copious amounts of money and a disturbingly wide platform. What’s more, all of this allows her to make whatever choices she wants, with little to no consequence, such as writing under a male pseudonym of ‘Robert Galbraith’. She can pick and choose and try on genders, but should anyone else want to make the permanent changes that can allow them to live out their truths, she immediately jumps to oppose them, and deny them the fundamental right of autonomy.

Moreover, this is not the first time Rowling has been criticised for her problematic views. In 2020, she commented on an article that used the term “people who menstruate”, saying “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

It’s hard to tell whether she said this as a joke, or was trying to be inflammatory. I think it’s only fair to acknowledge that she thinks she’s protecting women by making this comment; she believes that not using the word “woman” denies the existence of our gender and sex.

But it really doesn’t.

The article she was commenting on discussed the need to create a more equal and understanding post-Covid world, in which hygiene for people who menstruate is taken more seriously. The article wasn’t really about women at all — it was about the lack or knowledge, understanding and resources for people who menstruate, based on where in the world they live, due to societal taboos and stigmas surrounding periods.

And still, Rowling was outraged at the idea that it is not only women who menstruate.

Unfortunately for her, however, this is the truth. And by denying this truth, she is therefore denying the existence of not only so many trans people all over the world, but even cis people, who she claims to stand by and support no matter what.

It is evident, of course, that many transgender men may menstruate, and equally that trans women may not. However, this does not, or should not, force them into one of two rigid categories that TERFs want to uphold, and these experiences (or lack of experiences) of periods most certainly do not render transgender people’s experience of gender as inconsequential, unimportant and, ultimately, void.

Additionally, in saying that it is women who menstruate, Rowling is practically suggesting that is a cis woman doesn’t have periods, she can no longer consider herself a woman. What about menopause? What about hysterectomy patients? What about any other cisgender woman who, for whatever reason, is unable to menstruate? Do these women just stop being women? Because, in that case, we would likely have millions, if not billions, of people who are being stripped of their gender identities, based solely on the bodily functions that they are unable to perform.

If you ask me, that’s not exactly a very ‘Feminist’ point of view.

And what’s even more upsetting is that, considering that feminism is the fight for equality and inclusivity for all genders, the movement still fails to be as inclusive as it should be. During so many pivotal moments in the fight for women’s equality, trans women (and non-binary people) have been there, at the very forefront of these movements, yet they continue to be marginalised, dehumanised, and othered by the very community whose cause they’re fighting for.

Like all other genders, “woman” is an indefinable term, because there is not one single experience of being a woman that fits everyone who identifies as such. Moreover, by boiling the definition of being a woman down to simply someone who menstruates, Rowling, and others like her, are forcing women back into the roles and stereotypes connected with this, such as the ultimate purpose and goal of having a child, and therefore only existing as a carrier, or vessel, rather than being your own person.

I’ve often maintained, and feel the need to repeat that Feminism as a movement works to facilitate the emancipation of women from gender norms and limitations; thus, in doing so, we must enable anyone who is not cisgender to emancipate themselves from these same unrelenting gender binaries.

If the main goal of the movement is to combat these rigid ideas of gender, then it must follow that the right to self-determination of gender is an extension of Feminism, by its very definition.

By Sarah Clif, Student


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