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Separating female and woman

(59 Posts)
Blibbyblobby Sun 16-Aug-20 22:22:37

Putting my head above the parapet...sorry but it's a long one...

I've been thinking a lot about how, should I be put on the spot (for example at work), I can articulate my position on gender without standing on the "TERF" landmine and making any further discussion impossible.

And I am concerned that if the word Woman is redefined I won't honestly be able to identify as one any more, which could exclude me from anti-sexism opportunities and protections.

And I've also been thinking about how GC and Reactionary Right voices are superficially aligned on gender but actually coming from totally incompatible positions, and I do not want to express myself in a way that someone in that Reactionary Right could take as validation.

While clearly there is an irreconcilable difference between believing all gender identities are real and believing no gender identities are real, fundamental to both is the insight that most of the stuff traditionally bundled up as Man or Woman is nothing to do with biological sex and everything to do with society and socialisation. That puts me in the second camp much closer to the Genderists* in the first than to those who don't believe TWAW because they DO believe the traditionally Male and Female stuff is biologically driven.

So, let's for the sake of argument accept that TWAW and TMAM. Let's accept people genuinely have a gender identity that is innate to them and should be accepted not challenged.

Irrespective of their gender identity, people who are female have specific needs arising from the challenges and capabilities of a female body in our society which people who are male don't have. (And vice versa of course, but this post is about females).

Things that are needed by females include: period- and incontinence- friendly toilet setup, maternity support including non-career-impacting breaks, female sports, tooling and product designs that safely fit the female body.

Things that females shouldn't need but in our current society they do: physical protection from aggressive males, social protection from entitled males, access childcare, support for caring for dependants, educational and career opportunities to address the disadvantages of female socialisation and social expectations others have of females.

Taking this perspective, most of the laws, services, protections and opportunities for "Women" are actually aimed at Females because they are not needed by or of use to Males. But the time they were written/established, "Woman" and "(Adult human) Female" were synonymous and Woman was the more conventional term, so they were defined as Women-only rather than Female-only.

Feminism, understanding that the concept of Woman is both biological and cultural and that Women's oppression rests on the cultural constructs that have been built around our biology, has focused on mitigating, challenging, disproving and eventually dissolving these cultural constructs. That focus puts us in direct conflict with those who believe TWAW because the only way TW can be completely Women is to make the definition of Woman entirely non-biological.

Perhaps however, a faster route to where we want to be is to accept the concept of Woman is too tainted with cultural baggage to ever undo, and actually align with the genderists (with whom we share that fundamental insight that feminine is separate from female) by giving them the word Woman for the cultural construct, thereby gaining from their fight to decouple culture and biology, while the Feminist effort focuses on empowering individuals of the Female sex under the banner of Female whatever their gender identity (or lack of). Female then is not an opposition to any trans identities but exists alongside them, including Females of any gender and excluding only Males, of any gender.

So I realise I could actually be comfortable with saying is "TW are Women", as long as I can caveat with "but in practical terms I can't agree with TW being treated as Women in all things until we've gone back, worked out which spaces, protections and opportunities currently defined as Women only were really intended to be Female-only, and redefined them as such. Then everything that remains as Women-only is absolutely open to TW, and the Female-supporting items are open to any Female including TM, non-binary females and any other gender identity."

I realise this is pretty much just arguing for single sex spaces, but I think it's helpful to reframe this debate with an acknowledgement that the word Woman has historically conflated the cultural and the biological, the biological aspects of Woman cannot be available to TW, to truly allow TW to be Women we need to separate the two, and that separation is something that's also core to most feminism.

To be clear, this isn't "oh ok then, TW can be Women if they want, all we Real Girls will just leave that room and go into the one marked Female". This is about recognising that both those who promote or support Trans causes and those who reject gender entirely will be helped by having separate, explicit social and legal concepts for being biologically female and for socially identifying as feminine.

If the Genderists are right, the social gender Woman will continue to exist and be meaningful. If the GC are right, it will eventually become irrelevant because without the cultural "engine" of biological sex to drive gendered socialisation of children, grouping unrelated preferences and behaviours into gender buckets just peters out. Either way, Females continue to get the services, protection and support their sex requires.

(* -ist as in Theist not -ist as in racist )

OP’s posts: |
RufustheSniggeringReindeer Sun 16-Aug-20 22:32:46

A while back i would absolutely have agreed with you

But ive seen transfemale too many times to agree now

ErrolTheDragon Sun 16-Aug-20 22:39:22

* fundamental to both is the insight that most of the stuff traditionally bundled up as Man or Woman is nothing to do with biological sex and everything to do with society and socialisation*

Nope. 'Gendered' societies and socialisation is absolutely to do with biological sex. (The important parts, anyway, not trivia like clothes and makeup.)
Most of it around controlling women's fertility, ensuring paternity, that sort of thing.

So the rest of your argument is pretty irrelevant.

Woman still means 'adult human female', and girl still means 'juvenile human female'.

littlbrowndog Sun 16-Aug-20 22:44:55

But you don’t need to identify as a woman. If you are a woman then you are a woman

No,identifying needed.

It’s a simple as that

BlueBrush Sun 16-Aug-20 22:44:58

It's not an unreasonable position at all, and many of us might have conceded the wird "woman" to keep "female". The trouble is trans women don't only identify as women, they will also often say they identify as female. They don't want to be excluded from the word "women" or "female".

ErrolTheDragon Sun 16-Aug-20 22:55:42

It's not ok 'woman' - which has a clear and distinct meaning (female won't do, it applies to dogs , cats and holly trees).
If you want a word to mean 'feminine' ... there's 'feminine'.

TyroSaysMeow Sun 16-Aug-20 22:56:42

It's been suggested here many times before. It doesn't work.

There are many examples now of male trans people claiming to be female, even to have always been female. What we are seeing over and over again is that what is demanded is the grouping together of female, XX, opressed-sex-class, cunty type persons and XY, SRY-toting, oppressor-class, socialised male persons.

The reason they want the word woman isn't because they feel these two random syllables suit them best. They want it because it's used to label the group they want membership of.

If that group becomes commonly referred to as "females" to distinguish us from males/men/transwomen, the word woman no longer performs the purpose it once did for them; it no longer allows them to claim to be fundamentally the same as us.

We are seeing this already. It's just the latest stage in a conflict over language that's been rumbling for years now. It doesn't matter what words we give up and agree to share with hem. The word they want is whichever one we use to describe ourselves as a distinct class from which they are excluded.

I get where you're coming from, OP, and I used to think the same thing. But it's rooted in a misunderstanding of what's motivating the demand request to share the word "woman".

ErrolTheDragon Sun 16-Aug-20 22:56:51

Sorry, lost a word or two at the start there - not ok to concede 'woman'.

MForstater Sun 16-Aug-20 22:57:23

No I don't think so - we need a word for adult human female. That word is woman.

Decoupling culture from biology is impossible - human societies are made up of biological, evolved human beings.

People are flexible and culture can change, but the whole project of separating "gender" from biology is I think doomed to failure.

If "gender" means narrow constraints and expectations put on men and women, but all means we should challenge them.

But if "gender" means the fact that we notice other people's sex and relate to each other as sexed beings, including picking up whatever the cultural expectations of our sex are... that is not ever going away.

Similarly, human beings have an instinct to learn language. But the language you learn will depend on the time and place you grow up in.

littlbrowndog Sun 16-Aug-20 22:59:24

Don’t concede. You will never be done conceding

You will just become a cervix haver or some such tripe

WorkingItOutAsIGo Sun 16-Aug-20 23:00:07

Nope. Firstly it’s a lie. Secondly, as Neville chamberlain could tell you, appeasement never works.

ANewCreation Sun 16-Aug-20 23:10:57

No, thanks!

I need the words 'female' and 'woman' and 'girl' to describe myself and the 3.5 billion plus people on the planet who share my reproductive class.

Personally happy to hand over 'feminine', 'femininity', 'girly', 'feminised', 'effeminate' etc though as I don't have much use for them.

TyroSaysMeow Sun 16-Aug-20 23:14:52

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Winesalot Sun 16-Aug-20 23:39:03

Sadly, I too have seen far too much of the narrative that insists that transwomen are female and have always been female just in the wrong body to believe that your proposition would work.

And if we follow this suggestion in the UK, what about the rest of the world. Do women who are using the English language (or any language for that matter) to describe themselves have to change too. Women and girls who have little autonomy over their lives and their futures now. What happens to them in this significant change of meaning of the word women?

I have never seen an activist actually articulate how they are helping women and girls in these situations at all by changing their language to describe themselves too.

testing987654321 Sun 16-Aug-20 23:44:01

we need a word for adult human female. That word is woman.

This. For reasons I don't fully understand the OP is coming up with a complicated system to allow the phrase TWAW to make sense. They aren't, so it doesn't.

ContentiousOne Sun 16-Aug-20 23:49:07


When women have conceded this, TRA's have moved on to claiming TW are female.

So no. They don't get either. Woman is the word for a grown female, girl is the name for a juvenile female.

If males don't want to called men because they prefer to live as their idea of 'woman', there's already a name, transwoman.

Not woman, not female.

RoseTintedAtuin Mon 17-Aug-20 00:03:42

Let me get this right... after generations of being considered property of men, decades of fighting for our own rights and space and even now having to work twice as hard as men to achieve career success as well as still being main carers in the home... we are now expected to give up our identity as women because someone else (biologically men who I completely understand identify as what society deems feminine) want to use that word??
I am happy to support teams women in finding their safe space and fighting for laws which protect them and fighting to access counselling to address their needs etc. But trans-women are trans-women. Biological women are women. You can’t just decide you want ‘ownership’ of a word and demand its meaning (which has been the same for as long as language has existed) be changed to accommodate your wants.

SetYourselfOnFire Mon 17-Aug-20 00:04:44

OP, this is where I was at 5 years ago. It's a fine compromise. The problem is they won't agree. They already are using 'female', even 'biological female', and also saying biological sex doesn't exist and there's no difference between them and us at all. Not different enough to warrant 'female services' that don't include them. See, ActionAid and Cervixes and Ovarian Cancer etc. Or putting transwomen in charge of intimate services for traumatized rape victims who can't be touched by men.

stumbledin Mon 17-Aug-20 00:10:16

I think what OP has written just shows the power of words. And how sucessful queer politics has been in recent decades in getting people to use sex and gender as though they were the same.

It is not that long ago that everyone knew that women meant adult bilogical female. That's why we have the Sex Discrimination Act. Because in living memory nobody believed the mumbo jumbo that queer politics has been subverting language with.

In fact no one ever really used the word "gender". People talked about feminine / femininity or masculine / musculinity.

But queer politics in colonising Women's Studies (which were the same as having Black Studies ie accepting that sections of society had not and are not given equal weight) and turning it into Gender Studies immediately started down the part of erasing the reality of women. And by erasing the reality of sex, men could then deny that they could be a sex class divide.

So we just need to dig in, and continue to object to men trying to colonise our reality.

I dont think we are winning - yet - but because trans have gotover confident they are now making such outrageous demands that more people are standing up and saying thisis b*ll*cks.

And we owe to those speaking up not to concede eg this:

"The health board’s policy is that nobody should be obliged to use facilities “designated for use by the gender they were assigned at birth”. Why, Marra asked, if NHS Lanarkshire believes gender is assigned at birth, does it offer expectant mothers the option of discovering their child’s sex at 20 weeks of gestation?

For highlighting this contradiction in a policy document, Marra – one of a number of female politicians who have raised concerns that plans to make it easier for people to self-identity as the gender of their choice stands to erode women’s sex-based rights – is now the target of a campaign by activists.

Labour LGBT+ Scotland – an affiliate of the Scottish Labour Party – is demanding that leader Richard Leonard takes action against the MSP. "

ChakaDakotaRegina Mon 17-Aug-20 00:31:57


*we need a word for adult human female. That word is woman.*

This. For reasons I don't fully understand the OP is coming up with a complicated system to allow the phrase TWAW to make sense. They aren't, so it doesn't.


We’ve already seen a TW or two describe themselves as a c!s woman, so even this hateful term isn’t for us (not that we want it)

It’s normal for language to evolve but it’s not normal for biology to be considered offensive and for people to be tripped up and shamed and policed.

ThePawtriarchy Mon 17-Aug-20 00:40:41

I think you’re tying yourself up in knots. Women are adult human females, biologically so (whether they have uteruses or periods or have had hysterectomies or bear children or do not bear children). The other adults are biological men or males whether they take hormones or have surgery or try to breastfeed. I’m done with it, really.

PastMyBestBeforeDate Mon 17-Aug-20 00:44:06

Whatever word we use to describe women will become a target.
We should draw the line at the word we've used for hundreds of years. Everyone knows what it means. Our biology may be all we have in common but it is unchanged over millennia.

WhereYouLeftIt Mon 17-Aug-20 01:00:55

I can add nothing to what everyone has already said.

Woman = adult human female, just as
Mare = adult equine female and
Sow = adult porcine female.

Woman means female. A female who is adult and human to boot. They're already coming after the word 'female'.

WhereYouLeftIt Mon 17-Aug-20 01:03:57

On another point:

"And I've also been thinking about how GC and Reactionary Right voices are superficially aligned on gender but actually coming from totally incompatible positions, and I do not want to express myself in a way that someone in that Reactionary Right could take as validation."

The Genderists have just as much in common with who I think you mean by 'Reactionary Right' as GC.

ItsLateHumpty Mon 17-Aug-20 07:11:49

Just to repeat ErrolTheDragon and WhereYouLeftIt

Female is a scientific term that refers to the sex class of a species that is capable of producing young.
The term woman refers specifically to human beings, while female could refer to any species.

So if you remove woman do I become non-human?

I know you’re trying to be nice. The problem is, they aren’t.

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