Guest post: There was this thing called “femininity”

Lady Mondegreen offered me a comment she made elsewhere as a guest post and I snapped it up.

If you insist that the meaning of woman can no longer be tied to biological sex (“a woman is an adult female human being,” where “female” means “body which produces egg rather than sperm cells,” or “body which most closely resembles those had by egg-producers,”) then how do you define it?

I’ve been told that a woman is “a person who identifies as a woman,” a circular definition that reduces “woman” to a self-chosen “identity.” It says nothing about why anyone would choose to be a woman. It also erases millions of women who never chose their identity as women, and certainly have no say in the social implications of being one–in other words, the class of people, worldwide, who are oppressed because they were born in bodies that produced ova rather than sperm (or were externally physically indistinguishable from them.)

When I was a kid, there was this thing called “femininity.” It consisted of the presumed attributes of a woman: passivity, gentleness, nurturing tendencies (including a deep desire to have and care for babies,) fondness for pastels, intuitiveness, and other qualities. Some of the qualities were negative: inferior intelligence (especially with regards to math and science,) relative lack of leadership qualities, indecisiveness, pettiness, a fascination with trivialities, a tendency to gossip. They were all normative.

I don’t think it’s enough to divorce the negative qualities from “femininity.” And I don’t think it’s enough to divorce “femininity” from “biologically female.” I think we need to divorce “femininity” (and its contemporary equivalent, woman-as-gender,) from “woman.”

But we do need to acknowledge the class of people who are despised and oppressed because they were born in bodies that produce ova rather than sperm. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge that they are oppressed, in large part, because of the bodies they were born into–however they identify (assuming they have the privilege to “identify” as anything, outside of what their society tells them they are.)

(And as long as saying the above triggers abuse [“TERF,” “bigot,” “cis scum,” “subhuman,”] the movement for equal rights for egg-bearers is going to have a problem.)

22 Responses to “Guest post: There was this thing called “femininity””