Guest post: The fundamental fact of existence in a female body

Originally a comment by Lady Mondegreen on These questions take on new urgency.

Is there some set of core experiences distinctive of womanhood, some shared set of adventures and exploits that every woman will encounter on her journey from diapers to the grave?

What a leading way to put it. No, women won’t all have a “shared set of adventures and exploits.”

What we will share is the fundamental fact of existence in a female body as opposed to the other kind.

From that it follows that the vast majority of us will share at least some experiences unique to women. Menstruation, for example. The possibility of pregnancy. Pregnancy itself, and childbirth. From that follows the sociopolitical consequences of being female, which vary quite a lot by nation, ethnicity, and class but consistently over the past few millennia have meant subordination to those other people–the male-bodied ones.

Why have women historically been seen as subordinate, inferior, the second sex? It ain’t because we share “a set of adventures and exploits.” Biology, evolutionary psychology, and history all converge on an answer: It’s because we’re the ones who have the babies. We’re the ones who have the babies and males are the ones who want to the babies we have to be theirs. Add in the fact that we’re smaller and therefore can be bullied and the origins of male supremacist social structures are not hard to trace.

I doubt that chimps believe that females are inferior to males, but the males are dominant. (Bonobo females’ dominance over males is collective, not individual–sisterhood can indeed be powerful.) Our species developed language and our peculiar narrative tendency and then invented stories to account for a pre-existing state of affairs. Probably. (I’m skeptical about Golden Age tales of peaceful Matriarchal civilizations and Noble Savages living in perfect equality with one another and harmony with Nature.)

I’m oversimplifying. I could be wrong. But you don’t have to have an amateur interest in primatology and evolutionary biology to notice that there are some profound physical differences between the sexes, and that these differences have consequences. It strikes me, not for the first time, that people like Carol Hay, for all their “sex positivity,” must live in profound alienation from their bodies.

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