Genitalia does Not Determine Gender: Addressing a Women’s March Blindspot.

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As most of us know by now, the second Women’s March was held on January 20th, 2018.

Strong, beautiful, capable women filled the streets, wearing their cute, pink pussyhats and wielding signs like, “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding” and “pussy power.”

And I’m proud of these women. But looking through these pictures online, there is one question that keeps coming to my mind:

Since when is my vagina (or the colour of it, or the fact that it occasionally bleeds) what makes me a woman?

There are a lot of women in this world, and amongst these women, a lot of variety. Some women don’t bleed from their vaginas, for one reason or another. Some vaginas aren’t pink.

Some women don’t even have vaginas, because some women were born with penises, and some women chose to keep their penises. And yet, despite all of this variety, they are all still women, and these women deserve recognition and validation and basic human rights as much as anyone else.

And, I know, I know, there are a lot of women in the world. It’s difficult and, in some cases, impossible to constantly be inclusive to every single one of them, especially when some issues that the Women’s March are trying to gain attention to are specific to certain women (like, say, women’s rights to reproductive health). And the vagina is, to a certain extent, an image to be reclaimed by some.

But if we’re going to move forward with this whole equal rights thing that we’re all hoping for, we need to make sure that we’re being inclusive toward all women. And this idea of equating femininity with vaginas and masculinity with penises is a slippery slope.

I often hear it joked about amongst cis-gendered male company. This idea that having a big penis means that you’re somehow a bigger and better man. This idea that, without a penis, you aren’t a man, that even if a cis-gendered man lost his penis for one reason or another, then—poof! Suddenly, he’s a woman, just like that.

Heck, another word for penis is literally “manhood.”

And part of striving for equal rights should involve spreading this message that, just because you were born with a penis, doesn’t mean that you’re a man. And just because you don’t have a penis, doesn’t mean that you aren’t a man. Some feminists are legitimately trying to do this. And some feminists seem to be taking a page from the same book that all of those men bragging about their big dicks are reading.

Which, you know, would be cool if it weren’t for the fact that transgender individuals really should not be ignored right now. Like, they really, really shouldn’t.

Trans people are four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population due to several workplace issues—including violence and discrimination (trans people also experience homelessness at twice the rate of the general population).

Forty-one percent of trans or gender non-conforming individuals have attempted suicide (compared to 4.6 percent of the general population).

One in two transgender people are raped, and some have even speculated that the reality might be as high as 66 percent.

In 2017, 28 transgender individuals were murdered in the United States—meaning that violence against trans people has actually been increasing (in 2016, 23 trans people were murdered). Nearly all of them were women of colour.

This is the reality of living as a transgender person in North America. This is something that feminists should be talking about—and talking about prominently. I understand that we have other concerns to deal with as well, but we need to make space for this at our marches. Because this matters. This is important. We can’t just ignore it, because it doesn’t fit into our pussy-centric narrative.

And I see your little pussyhats, and they’re very cute. I do not for a second believe that they were made with ill intent, or to exclude anybody from the march. But when we put them on and agree that what unites us as women is the vagina, then we aren’t really being fair or true.

What unites us as women is that we all call ourselves women, and we all have to deal with the hardships that comes with it. And it’s a different hardship for everybody. Some women only have to deal with sexism. Some women have to deal with sexism as well as racism. Some women have to deal with sexism, racism, and transphobia, all at once. Some women have to deal with more.

And I understand if you don’t relate to that experience because it isn’t your own—but that doesn’t mean that those women aren’t our sisters. That doesn’t mean that those women aren’t suffering, and that doesn’t mean we can’t learn about their experience and help them.

All we all really need to do is learn. Learn and make sure that we are opening up our marches and our movement to every women out there.

If I lost my vagina tomorrow in some sort of awful vagina-losing accident, I’d still be a woman. Because, end of day, my vagina has absolutely nothing to do with my identity. I identify as a woman because I feel like a woman—end of story. It’s not because of what’s between my legs (or the fact that it bleeds, or the colour of it, or whatever).

Genitalia does not define us as much as we have allowed society to make it define us. It is society that tries to make us think that you can’t be a man with a vagina, or a woman with a penis. And if feminism believes in anything, it is that society can be changed.

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Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Flickr/Jar
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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Ciara Hall

Ciara Hall is a young writer who enjoys weaving tales of fantasy and blogging about her personal thoughts, feelings, and the everyday happenings of her life. Follow her work on My Trending Stories or visit her website.

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Roxanne Nelson Jan 31, 2018 9:04pm

I get what this article is trying to say, but sorry, for the vast majority of people on this planet, genitalia (and along with the hormones that go with it), does define gender. There is a very small minority who believe that they are in the wrong physical body, and some who feel they are neither gender. But let me emphasize again, they are a tiny minority of the 7 billion people on this planet. And its not just genitalia. Men and women are very physically different as far as internal organs, body build and size, hormones, and even our brains. We cannot simply dismiss the vast majority and say genitalia doesn't matter. It does. A woman with a penis is still a man, unless she takes hormones and/or undergoes sex reassignment surgery. But if she doesn't, then she remains physically a man in that she has male strength (can't compete in sports as a woman), grows hair on her face, can't have children, can get prostate cancer, faces other health conditions more prevalent in men, etc. And dealing with finding a partner becomes very complicated. Sorry if I'm being politically incorrect, but this is fact. We should certainly not dismiss those who are transgender or intersex, but we cannot dismiss how our physcial bodies also define who we are--and as I said, it goes way beyond just having a penis or vagina. And by the way, the pussy hats are in defiance to the lewd and disgusting remarks trump made about being able to grab any pussy he wants. They is their purpose, and that's why they are being worn, in defiance to sexual predators like trump. Their purpose is not to celebrate vaginas or make transgenders feel unwelcome.

Mark Fasi Jan 31, 2018 3:38pm

Hilary....very good. Completely makes sense and necessary.

Hilary Easton Jan 30, 2018 3:08pm

I think the terms man and woman were originally posited purely on the very different physical and functional sexual capacities of two types of human, one having a penis and testicles and the other a vagina and ovaries. I personally think we still need the terms man and woman to be tied to these physical characteristics for very practical reasons to do with medicine, sport and so on, as well as it's very deep meaning, such as in tantra, for instance. One of the main reasons for this is the extra vulnerability of the female-type body, which means that it is going to be women that lose out if gender distinctions are done away with. A person with testicles, for instance, gains a very real advantage in terms of size, strength and speed due to hormones. A person with a womb has the potential to get pregnant and carry a child. These are not inconsiderable differences in physical attributes. If a person self-describes themselves as fully belonging to the other category, then injustices can result (normally to the female). Given that these are useful categories we obviously need another category, a third sex, perhaps intersex for those who do not fall comfortably into the other two. The main problem with that for those within it is that, at present, it is not recognised by society. In Tibetan medicine, which I studied for a time, there are said to be three sexes male, female and a third sex, which encompasses the many variations physically and emotionally that fall outside the other two. There is no stigma attached to being in the third sex, as far as I could make out. When it comes to the terms masculine and feminine, I take issue with these terms as I think they are just conventions which try to normalise behaviours in order to restrict them. A person with a penis who does not wish to conform to the 'masculine' in dress or behaviour should not be required to, and vice versa. I really think that it is the ideas of masculine and feminine that are the problem for non-conventionally gender identifying people. It is a very sad and sorry comment on society that trans people are victimised by others, or that they are so troubled by their own feelings or the reactions of others that they commit suicide, but I do not believe that the solution is to try to destroy the idea of male and female based on physical attributes. I even suggest that the fashionable notion that you promote here is part of the problem in that, in trying to protect trans people by saying they are not different, many men and women will feel that their own identity is being attacked and will want to defend it. This could be part of the reason for the recent rise in attacks on trans people.

John Backman Jan 30, 2018 2:10pm

This, I think, may be the most inclusive language I've read on anything related to being trans or (like me) gender non-conforming. I spend so much energy trying to convince people--OK, more often still trying to convince myself--that "just because you were born with a penis, doesn’t mean that you’re a man." This is great work, Ciara, and so necessary. Thank you for speaking it forth.