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Why Inclusive Feminism Is the Only Feminism

W

JK Rowling.

Enough said, right? I want to break down why, precisely, her kind of rhetoric is inherently anti-feminist. The idea that trans people are somehow encroaching on the rights of women/biological females/etc., is utterly absurd for a few reasons.

So, let’s dive in.

Sex Is Not Binary

Or, at the very least, not neatly binary. Nature is a very messy (and lovely) thing, which results in all kinds of variations, across species and within species.

Take, for example, height in human beings. Some biological females are very short; some are very tall! I myself am 5’2; there are also biological females who are 6’0. Clearly, biological sex is not the only influence on how tall one is. Thus, we cannot define “women” as being between X height and Y height, even if we want to say “women tend to be shorter” (or smaller) than men.

Thus, a tall female is not necessarily an “incorrect” female, just as a short female is not necessarily a poor example of femininity. We are merely different, with different gene expressions.

Although I think we can agree 50 feet might be abnormal.

We can then take this into virtually every other aspect that we might try to use define what a typical member of the female sex looks like:

  • Some females have big hips; others do not
  • Some females have large breasts; others do not
  • Some females have two functioning ovaries; others do not
  • Some females have split uteri; others do not
  • Some females lack a uterus altogether
  • Some females lack a functional vagina

And that is all on the basis of simple individual variation across XX phenotypes. So you can’t say having a functional vagina defines a female/woman, because there are XX females who do not have one.

Chromosomes Do Lie

We can’t even use XX phenotype to identify females, because there are cases where genetic females don’t have that phenotype. The same is true of trying to use XY to identify genetic males, because there are cases where a genetic male does not have the XY phenotype.

And that’s just in humans. Beyond human beings, we can see that a strict male/female binary is not necessarily the norm for many other species. Many species of fish, for example, actually change their sex dependent upon the social conditions.

When a female clownfish dies, the largest male becomes female. (Courtesy of Elias Levy/Wikipedia)

Biological sex is thus not necessarily something stable across the animal kingdom.

The Sociological Argument for Variant “Womanhoods”

All right, all right. Human beings can’t go in and change our DNA—we’re not fish. We don’t wake up one day, discover our reproductive female is dead, and then the largest male transforms into a female.

The idea of a binary is still exploded by the existence of individual variation and the fact that nature isn’t always neat and tidy. We don’t always get XX or XY, nor do we always get “normative” expression of those phenotypes.

For most of history, though, we didn’t really have “biology” to guide us, except the rudimentary glance at one’s genitals. (And we can look to the existence of gods like Hermaphroditus in Greek mythology to see we’ve always known some individuals don’t fit into the “binary.”) We still largely use that, versus actual genetic testing, to determine whether one is “male” or “female,” “boy” or “girl.”

What You See Is What You Get

Barring getting naked with someone, we use other social and physical signals to communicate who we are. Some are associated with “femininity,” while others are associated with “masculinity.” Our social scripts about how to treat members of each sex are complex. Not being able to discern sex puts us ill at ease, because we’re unsure of which script to employ.

We can only ever know what people choose to show us. We ask people to follow particular scripts. People inflict scripts upon children from the moment they’re born—and with new technologies, even before they leave the womb.

Yet the scripts we use differ across time and space. Different cultures define what it means to be a “girl” or a “boy” differently. What defines a “man” and a “woman” is not identical across cultures. And certainly, our conceptions of “man” and “woman” have changed throughout time.

See Exhibit A

Let’s look at an example:

A medieval woman reaches out to a knight riding out of a castle in Leighton's famous painting.

In medieval Europe, women were the weaker sex and prone to corruption by the devil. Thus, women were filled with sin; they were closer to nature and unable to fight the instincts. They were insatiable and lusty.

Fast-forward three or four centuries, to the 1800s. Women were no longer wanton sluts, but frigid. They had no interest in sex; only men were driven by carnal desires.

Clearly, then, women in England were conceptualized in very different ways in different centuries. Thus, we must recognize that how we define “woman” and “man” is always in flux.

In a world where there are multiple cultures, with multiple definitions of “men” and “women,” there can be no one right way of being a “man” or a “woman.” There is no universal. Thus, we must accept that there are a multitude of ways of being a woman or being a man, and these vary across time, space, culture—and yes, individuals.

Biological Determinism Is Shit

The final reason that we cannot accept the sex/gender binary is because feminism must argue against biological determinism. Biological determinism is a notion that has been used by the dominant powers to oppress many peoples, including “women.”

In this particular vein, we look to arguments about how nature influences women and makes them lesser:

  • Women are inherently inferior at math.
  • Women are fragile.
  • Vigorous exercise is not good for women.
  • Women are unable to obtain a higher education.
  • Women are irrational.

We also hear arguments about how women are natural caretakers and mothers. People have argued this way to enforce a divide between the sexes, to enforce the idea that woman’s natural role is as wife and mother, in the home. These ideas say women are incapable of logical thought; therefore, women are incapable of leading.

Fate Isn’t Preset by Two Chromosomes

All this hinges on the idea that biology determines your role in life, that it determines whether you can comprehend math or rational thought.
It is this line of thinking that feminism has pushed back against. Women are human and capable of rational thought. Biology cannot bind women.

In that case, then, biology cannot define “womanhood,” because every biological female expresses womanhood differently. And thus every expression of “womanhood” and “femininity” must be valid. It cannot be limited by biology, for the individual biological expression of femininity and womanhood is different.

And thus we arrive at a very simple conclusion:

Women cannot be bound or defined by biology. Every gender expression is valid.

Thus women are women, biology notwithstanding, just as men are men.

You Can’t Pick and Choose

Why do we have to argue this? Because feminism can’t hold that we’re all equal if it begins to pick and choose which expressions of womanhood/femininity are valid and which are not. Is a woman who wears dresses and lipstick and likes to bake cookies somehow less a woman than one who becomes a doctor and decides not to get married and have a family?

A female doctor in Pakistan examples a child, c. 2010. Courtesy of Department for International Development/Russell Watkins
Is this doctor somehow less feminine than a woman who chooses to be a homemaker? (Courtesy of Department for International Development/Russell Watkins)

Both are equally valid expressions of femininity and womanhood; both are women.

So, if a woman wears dresses and lipstick or chooses to be a doctor and is XX or XY, it does not matter. The expression of femininity is valid either way.

The second we try to argue it’s not, we fall back on biological determinism, which suggests women must be a particular way—irrational mothers, poor mathematicians, incapable of higher logic, and suited only for the home—which is what we want to fight against.

We are so much more than biology dictates. To suggest biology binds us, determines us, must necessarily limit us. Some people feel that’s important, for some reason. It’s really just a matter of adopting arguments that have been used against the very group you claim you’re fighting for. The moment you lend them weight, they become tools to oppress you again as well.

Until We’re All Free …

There is no emancipation for women if it does not include all women. (It’s worth noting here that biological determinism is also inherently racist, so the same principle similarly applies.)

In short, if you want to be a doctor and not have children and wear pants, that’s an acceptable performance of womanhood; if you wish to wear dresses and stay home and mind the house, that is also an acceptable performance of womanhood. Arguing for any sort of biological determinism suggests that there’s a particular way of “being a woman” engrained within our DNA, which thus invalidates certain ways of being a woman—if you’ve chosen not to have children, you’ve no doubt heard these arguments, even from well-meaning friends:

  • “You’ll change your mind”
  • “Your biological clock is ticking”
  • “Just wait until you get older”

How annoying are these arguments? They invalidate your womanhood, your femininity on the basis of biology. They suggest you can’t help but succumb to the biological imperatives of femaleness, and that, if you don’t, you’re somehow less of a woman.

When you argue trans women aren’t women due to biology, you weaponize these own arguments against yourself. Thus, women who adopt biologically based arguments are participating in and enabling their own subsequent oppression.

It’s only natural, after all.

Feminism Must Fight Back

Thus, we can see how the only real feminist arguments must be those that argue:

  • All expressions and performances of womanhood and femininity are valid
  • Biological determinism as deciding what is male/female or man/woman is invalid

Those that do not accept these tenets are complicit with ongoing oppression—not only of the people they attempt to invalidate, but of themselves. If only some expressions of femininity are valid, then you are not free to be yourself. If DNA dictates who is “a woman” and who isn’t, then you are not free to be yourself.

Until we are all free to perform as we desire, then none of us are free, and oppression of women—of all kinds—will stand strong.

Inclusive feminism is the only way forward.

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By Cherry

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